Schools Struggle to Fund Nurses

Aug 24, 2010

Kansas City, MO – Missouri students returning to school this fall may have less access to a nurse. That's following the recent end to a nearly two decade-old school health program.

The Missouri Health Initiatives Fund helped support nearly 800 nurses and health care workers in about half of the state's public school districts, mainly rural ones. Some private schools also qualified.

The program greatly boosted access to medical and dental care, according to the Missouri Department of Health. When Health Initiatives started in 1993, only about a third of students covered through the grant had a regular source of medical care. Through the program, medical access increased to about 90%.

Due to the state's difficult budget situation, the $4.8 million program will no longer continue.

About 40 schools districts - mostly small rural ones - have since told Missouri's health department they'll be without those services this year.

Doug McMillan is principal at Holy Rosary in Clinton, Missouri - located about 70 miles from Kansas City.

"School absences will probably increase without a school nurse," says McMillan. "Because we'll be sending them [students] home for reasons we probably shouldn't if the nurse was here."

McMillan says a parent who's also a nurse has agreed to be on call and volunteer a few hours a week.

Scott Young, Assistant Superintendent for Blue Springs, says his district will still maintain its current nursing staff, despite no longer getting the $85,000 annual grant.

"That being said, some of the services are going to have to be reduced - some of our preventative services, some of our dental screenings, our health fairs. We were providing fluoride treatments," says Young. "Our emphasis is going to move towards the acute, chronic care needs of the students."

Blue springs isn't alone. About 70 school districts have told the state they're going to be scaling back such services this year as a result of the cuts.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Health says it hopes schools are able to find alternative resources to maintain the services. Kit Wagar, a spokesperson with the department, says the elimination of the program has affected small rural districts the most. He says a majority of students are in districts that have already come up with other funding to maintain the previous level of nursing staff and services.

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