By Jeff Noble
In five Tri-County school districts, administrators are figuring out ways to handle medical needs for the upcoming school year because of school nurse programs being eliminated by two health departments.
Three school systems are affected by the layoffs by the Whitley County Health Department — the Corbin Independent, Williamsburg Independent and Whitley County school districts.
Two districts in neighboring Knox County — Knox County and Barbourville Independent schools — are feeling the pinch because of school nurse layoffs at the Knox County Health Department.
None of the school administrators, staff and students want it to happen — and neither do the health departments, but it comes down to money.
Gail Timperio, the Whitley health department’s director, said “We’re not getting paid by Medicaid.”
“We’re getting no payments from Kentucky Spirit, one of the Medicaid managed-care systems outside of Louisville that covers us. This program began in November 2011, and they’re supposed to be paying to all the districts they cover. Kentucky Spirit’s in litigation. And the conditions from the federal Medicaid program that health departments are forced to make have forced us to lay off our school nurses,” Timperio said.
As a result, she said the health department in Whitley County will lay off around 11 school nurses when school ends in May.
Corbin Independent Schools have already approved a request for proposals to set up what they call the schools’ “Health Clinic Station.” They’ve asked health care institutions to submit a proposal that will “support keeping students and staff healthy and in school by providing high-quality, easily accessible primary medical care and preventive health services.”
Their request pointed out that school health clinics are growing across the country, with more than 1,500 school-based clinics in the nation at this time.
Within the school’s space the health clinic station proposed by the Corbin school district could offer services such as urgent care, physical exams, monitoring and treatment of chronic diseases, immunizations and tuberculosis skin tests, prescriptions, nutritional counseling and health education.
According to the request for proposals, with the school providing easy access to space and patients in exchange of services for students and staff, there would be fewer absences.
Corbin Independent Schools Superintendent Ed McNeel feels the clinic station could be a winning proposition.
“The board felt like we needed to explore possibilities, and we’ve had more information on options that has come our way. The school health clinic proposal is one of them,” he said.
Notifications to those wanting to provide a partnership in the Corbin schools’ proposal were due Wednesday.
Options are also being explored for Williamsburg Independent Schools, explained Superintendent Denny Byrd.
“They’ve supplied us with one nurse from the Whitley County Health Department as part of their agreement. That will end in May at the end of the current school year. We all respect the fact of having a nurse in the school. When we remodeled the school, we put in a nurse’s station. I totally understand their situation, and I wrote them a letter recently telling them what a great job they did for us. We’re looking at different avenues. I’ve had a couple of retired nurses ask about working in the district, and I’ve had applications from two full-time nurses. We’ll wait and see,” Byrd said.
Getting ready to meet the need is also on the mind of Scott Paul, the Whitley County Schools superintendent.
“We are currently looking into contingency plans to make sure the nursing needs of our students are met, and hope to have a plan in place before the end of the school year,” he said in an email.
The Knox County Schools district is feeling the effects of the current economy and the additional cuts and furloughs that have affected the Knox County Health Department. Spokesperson Frank Shelton said a few nurses remain in the schools, but that won’t last much longer.
“Even after the school nurses are gone, we will still continue to work closely with the health department and seek their advice on medical-related issues,” Shelton said.
He added the district is seeking parental help in knowing any special accommodations their child may need on a medical basis, that the school system is reviewing their medical plans, and that the district will follow them if a child needs medical attention.
Shelton said, “For routine daily attention, such as diabetics, we are working closely with parents to develop a schedule of when their child needs injections or medicines. It is important to note that we are not medical professionals, and should we feel that their child needs attention, we will immediately call 911 and seek a professional. When following the instructions that parents have provided, after we have done the obvious if there is any doubt in our mind, we will be calling for emergency help. As a district, we will be educating our staff on common health procedures during professional development, and be working with parents to better know the health concerns of their child.”
Like Williamsburg, the Barbourville Independent Schools have one nurse on the premises, which will also end when school ends for the year in May. Superintendent Larry Warren also is looking at what options the district will have. But he also admits it will be tough saying a sudden goodbye to the program the health department has provided.
“We’re just discussing what we can and cannot do, and what we need to do. These nurses will be sorely missed at these schools (all schools in the Tri-County), and no matter what we do, it’ll be hard to replace them,” he said.