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Report: Many school districts lack full-time nurses

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Posted: Friday, November 1, 2013 12:00 am

Arcohe Elementary School District’s 400 students do not have a full-time school nurse. Instead, medications are administered in the school office by staff following specific directions from a physician’s prescription.

Verifications of absences due to illness are submitted via a phone call or note from the parent.

And if children become ill at school, office staff check their temperatures, and those with a fever or other visible signs of illness are usually sent home, Superintendent Jim Shock said.

And Arcohe is not alone.

Fewer than half of the state’s school districts only 43 percent have full-time school nurses, according to a recent report by researchers from California State University, Sacramento.

Some districts have cut back on school nursing staff to reduce costs, instead opting to hire health aides and train school staff to administer students’ medications.

But it’s always been that way for Herald’s one-school district, Shock said.

“Its all about budget,” he said. “And we are so small, we don’t have enough to keep a full time nurse busy.”

The same is true at Oak View Elementary School, also a one-school district, in Acampo. Its secretary and bilingual clerk take care of administering medications and deal with daily cuts and bruises, according to Superintendent Beverly Boone.

The San Joaquin County Office of Education supports the campus if its staff needs additional nursing services.

“We also have a terrific relationship with our local fire district,” Boone said. “They’ll send someone down if we need a consultation or more support.”

The Sac State report also found wide variations in the number of students an individual school nurse is responsible for, from 180 to more than 20,000.

Each nurse’s assignment is based upon the number of students enrolled in a district who require their services.

Lodi Unified School District currently employs 15 registered nurses, as well as six licensed vocational nurses who are overseen by registered nurses.

Some individual schools with a greater need for nursing services have designated nurses who work there daily, according to district staff.

The National Association of School Nurses ranked California 45th in the nation for access to school nurses.

That was an issue in August when the California Supreme Court ruled that trained but unlicensed employees could administer insulin to diabetic students if a nurse is unavailable. Some school nurses claimed it would be a disservice to fragile students.

But there has not been a diabetic student enrolled in Oak View for at least 15 years. The last such student administered his own insulin until his eighth grade year, when he received an insulin pump, Boone said.

Dian Baker, a CSU researcher involved in the report, said in a written statement that the capacity of schools to provide health services to students is so low in some areas that students’ safety might be at risk.

But Shock doesn’t feel it has been a problem.

“We are staffed just right,” he said.

Boone, too, has never known the lack of a full-time nurse to be an issue.

The district doesn’t have plans to add one.

“We don’t have one because of both size of our district and yes, budget,” Boone said.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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