Fayette schools proceed with scaled-back nursing plan for new school year

In this May 2012 file photo, Lansdowne Elementary School nurse Michelle Marra worked with a student.
In this May 2012 file photo, Lansdowne Elementary School nurse Michelle Marra worked with a student.

Fayette County Public Schools will proceed with a scaled-back school nurse program for 2013-2014, and use supplemental services to fill gaps where needed.

Over the years, the joint program by the school system and the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department has provided about 30 registered nurses to look after student health needs in the county schools.

But because of reduced federal funding to the health department, the program will operate with only 13 RNs and 14 licensed practical nurses for the 2013-2014 school year. It's also expected that school personnel will handle some of the load, including administering some medications.

Superintendent Tom Shelton said Monday that the plan is to supplement the nurses, where needed, by contracting with other health care providers, or bringing in additional help from the health department.

Some parents have complained since the cutbacks were first announced that nurses would be spread too thin and that children could suffer as a result.

Shelton decided to give the plan more study, rather than submitting it to the Fayette Board of Education last month.

But he said the board voted to go ahead with the program at its July 8 planning meeting, rather than waiting until the next regular board meeting July 22. With schools opening Aug. 14, time is short, he said.

"We needed to get the base contract in place so that we could start looking for places where we might need to use supplemental services," he said. "Now, we'll be working until school starts to see what other services we might need."

School district officials have described the plan as "stop gap" measure to meet nursing needs for 2013-2014, and give the Fayette Schools time to develop a permanent solution for the future.

Even so, Fayette board member Douglas Barnett said Tuesday that he has reservations about the plan. Barnett voted against the nursing plan on July 8.

"One thing is that the program is going from an RN model to an LPN model, and I think the reduction in the qualifications of personnel is a big issue," Barnett said. "I just think that when you're used to having services having provided RNs and you switch to an LPN model, it sounds like a drop off in services."

Barnett said he's also concerned about making staffers in the county schools responsible for providing some services.

"The way I understand it, they are going to train 10 people in each school to be core staff to do things like administer medications," he said. "I have a real problem with shifting those responsibilities to the office staff in the schools."

Shelton said he thinks the program will meet basic needs, with the district bringing in extra help to fill gaps if and when they arise.

"If a student with a specific health need moved into the district, we could sit down and look at the services we're providing ... and shift services or hire additional temporary services accordingly," he said.

Shelton said he wants to develop a completely new model for providing nursing services after next year. The district will seek proposals from health providers once plans are ready, he said.

"We hope to expand service for 2014-2015 and beyond," he said. "We have several options that we want to look at, and work with providers in the community to see what long-term solutions we can put in place."

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