Nurse coverage difficult in schools

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PARIS — Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hartnett said he is “encouraged” about applications he is receiving to fill the recent resignation of a nurse who was oversaw the medical needs of hundreds of students in Oxford Elementary School, the Otisfield Community School and at the Western Maine Regional Program for Children with Exceptionalities, that is based in Oxford.

The vacancy was announced at the last SAD 17 Board of Directors meeting on October 1.

”We are receiving applications. Very qualified people, so I am encouraged,” Hartnett told the Advertiser Democrat.

The issue of school nursing shortages that has affected the Oxford Hills School District, and many school districts throughout the state, has been discussed at length this year as officials try to find the best way to cover the medical needs of thousands of students, spread out over multiple school buildings within a limited budget.

Although Superintendent Rick Colpitts has said the perception is that the district should have a nurse at every school, in reality the state’s Essential Programs and Services recommends a nurse for every 800 students. Colpiitts said the recommendation didn’t take into account the many small schools in Maine where the student population is very low.

The problem of having a nurse available at the smaller schools when a crisis arises or simply to provide medications isn’t always easy, he said.

In the SAD 17 school district, there is a nurse at the Oxford Hills Middle School who covers North and South campuses and the Hebron Station School and one nurse at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School to serve its 1,100 student population.

In addition to the nurse position based at the Oxford Elementary School, currently there is a nurse stationed at the Paris Elementary School who also covers the Waterford and Harrison elementary schools; a nurse at the Rowe Elementary School who primarily covers the high risk population that is housed in that building which is also close to the Stephens Memorial Hospital where another nurse can be accessed if necessary.

There are also two health secretaries primarily focused on the two school health centers at the middle and high school that are funded through a grant that the Stephens Memorial Hospital picked up this year after the funding was pulled.

State law allows school districts to have a school secretary, for example, give medicine to students, but that ability is done so under the professional license of the registered nurse and the nurse is responsible to make sure the secretary is properly trained.

Wrap around 

The issue of “wrap-around”services -which includes nursing and social workers at the schools – have been discussed  in detail by administration and staff.

Colpitts told the SAD 17 Board of Directors at a meeting earlier this year, that the nurses have expressed a need for help in data entry and handing out medications to meet the needs of the hundreds of students they service.

Although school secretaries are trained and can do that work under the registered nurses professional license, in small schools like Otisfield, where the secretary may be the only one covering the medicine cabinet and may in fact be the only one in the school not teaching classes, they have to be available to answer the phone, greet visitors who may come into the school, and so forth.

“Consistency and competency” are the keys to having it work successfully, Colpitts said.

The nurses have brought up the idea of hiring medtechs, he said. They would be dedicated to providing nursing services in the absence of a registered nurse and unlike secretaries would not be distracted by other duties, he said.

Although the idea was discussed, other priorities such as hiring social workers were taken up in this year’s budget and there has been no further discussion on med techs at this time, Hartnett said.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts said that until the position is filled, administrators will do their best to fill the need with substitute nurses.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net