Advocates fear more cuts to Utah's school nurses

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- By one estimate, Utah's school nurses serve more children than any other state, and advocates worry state budget cuts could only stretch them even thinner.

The National Association of School Nurses says that on average, each school nurse in Utah serves about 4,900 students. The national average is about 1,100.

State lawmakers have already had to cut about 10 percent from one batch of state money used to support school nurses.

State Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, says she wants to make sure more cuts aren't made. This week, she kicked off a campaign inviting lawmakers to spend a day with their local school nurse.

"The more nurses we have the more children are protected," Mayne said. "With our budget cuts, I just want to make sure what we have is protected."

Advocates say that a reduction in the state's school nurses would mean fewer people to deal with playground injuries, flu and serious medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma and seizures.

Other school staffers can be trained to perform some procedures, like take temperatures or give shots, but would not be able to provide the same level of service, they said.

"We can look in their ears. We can look in their throat," said Jamie Ferdinand, past president of the Utah School Nurses Association and Granite School District nurse. "We can do these nursing assessments that laypeople do not do."

Nurses across the state often serve eight to 10 schools each.

Most are funded through several sources, including a specific line item in the state budget, Medicaid reimbursements, discretionary school funds and sometimes even local health departments, said Shirley Stevens, president of the Utah School Nurse Association.

Nurse Janet Bryner divides her time between nine schools. On a typical day, she visits three or four schools before lunch and deals with a range of issues, including about 15 diabetic students, a student on oxygen and at least 10 students with life-threatening allergies.

"There is never a dull moment," Bryner said. "With more school nurses, we could really meet the needs of more students."

Karen Cummings decided to get a job at her kids' elementary school to keep an eye on their health. They both have Type 1 diabetes and Oquirrh Hills Elementary, like most Utah schools, doesn't have its own full-time nurse. It shares its nurse with eight other schools.

"The school nurses aren't available at school all the time. There's not enough to go around," said Cummings, who works as an aide at the school. "It made me feel a lot better to know I could be here."


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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