'Troubling' report details nursing shortage in Wake schools

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- The flu is hitting our children hard and as kids with weak immune systems are combating the deadly virus, one advocacy group is raising the red flag that there are not enough nurses working in schools.

"The numbers are troubling," said NC Child Deputy Director Rob Thompson. "We know the flu this year is particularly severe. It's not only widespread, it's having a really dramatic impact on kids who are getting it, so it's dangerous. When a child is showing signs of being in trouble, it's critical that that child gets the necessary medical attention right away. School nurses know how to do that better than anyone on a campus."

A State Report shows, "Approximately 60 percent of all medical procedures conducted in schools are performed by school employees who are not nurses. As a result, students are vulnerable to errors and gaps in emergency medical care, and funding intended for education is being used to subsidize health care."

A top Wake County official said there are days where there is no nurse at all inside a school.

The evaluation said it could cost up to $79 million a year to meet the current standard.

"Over half of the nurses in our state are serving multiple schools, which means at any given time they may or may not be on campus," the report said.

Some nurses are being bounced around to three or four schools, according to the findings.

In Wake County, during the 2015-2016 school year, there were 2,072 students per nurse. That's compared to the recommended ratio of one nurse per 750 students.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Orange, and Person counties are all close to that ratio.

The report says Wake would need to hire more than 130 nurses to meet the standard.

WCPSS' nursing program is run by Wake County Health and Human Services.

Health Director Dr. Sue Lynn Ledford reiterated that the best line of defense against influenza is good hygiene and vaccination.

"No matter how many nurses you had in a school, you would still have issue with flu," she said.

Ledford explained there's a limited amount of money to work with and the department is making tough decisions.

"We wait and determine which schools need the most nursing time, and it's our best method of allocating the resources that we have on a limited capacity," Ledford said.

NC Child is planning to lobby lawmakers for more funding.

The state did create two initiatives to address the demand for school nurses. Lawmakers will be discussing the report this month in committee.

RELATED: You can read the full report here (.pdf)
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