I-TEAM: Even in a pandemic, some CSRA schools lack nurses
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Now that the first day is in the books for the first batch of students in our area, we're doing some homework tonight.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends a nurse on-site for every school, but thousands of local students could head back in a pandemic without one.
The school bells have been silenced for months, but today, school bells rang in the start of the new year and even though the sound hasn’t really changed, so much is different.
"We haven't put kids back in the petri dish that I call school," Dawn MacAdams, a former president of the South Carolina Nurses Association, said.
That petri dish now includes new safety precautions where kids are cultured into this “new normal.”
"It's going to be a very daunting task and very overwhelming," MacAdams said.
McAdams says now more than ever, each school needs a nurse.
"Schools typically pay much less than the hospital or a doctor's office will pay, so it's difficult to get school nurses and retain them," MacAdams said.
That’s not just in South Carolina. The same goes for Georgia. According to the National Association of School Nurses, 25 percent of schools do not employ a nurse, and 35 percent only have part-time nurses.
When we put those latest numbers under the microscope, we noticed they're pre-pandemic -- meaning they don't account for the nurses who responded to the COVID crisis.
Dr. April Hartman is the Chief of General Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at AU Health.
“They need nurses at the hospital,” Dr. Hartman said. “They need nurses in clinics, so I think that there just may not be enough nurses to go around.”
So how many nurses aren't around in the Two State? According to the latest numbers from the National Education Association, for every school nurse in Georgia, there are more than 1,700 students.
To put that in perspective, the National Association of School Nurses recommends one nurse per 750 students.
In South Carolina, 198 schools have no full-time nurse, and 75 schools only have a part-time nurse.
At least 123 state schools have no nurse at all.
Zooming in even more, we requested data from our three largest districts.
Let’s start in Richmond County. According to an Open Records Request, the district employs 31.5 nurses. ”Though most schools have a part-time nurse, a few RCSS schools have a full-time nurse,” the district said in a statement.
We sent the same request to Columbia County schools and found it only has 19 school nurses.
After a follow-up request, we can break it down even more. All Columbia County elementary schools have nurses. The schools without nurses? All middle schools and all high schools; nurses just visit those 4 hours a week.
As for Aiken County, we did eventually hear back 15 days after sending the request. Aiken County schools is the only system we contacted that is charging the public for this information. Until we get the numbers, it does appear Aiken County isn’t fully staffed since we found Aiken County has posted a job opening for a school nurse.
"There is still risk for children to get COVID-19," MacAdams said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, those under 18 “account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases” and most symptoms are mild.
Still, South Carolina superintendent Molly Spearman is concerned, even making this frightening comparison as early as May.
“For the last decade or so, we’ve been really doing risk management around active shooters coming into a school and have placed school resource officers in every school and drills, and this is the same type of risk. But it’s around the health of our students,” Spearman said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hartman sees some possible solutions, like telehealth for example. Why not find a way to have virtual appointments in schools without nurses? Better yet, she wonders why local schools don’t reach out to nurses in training?
“Why don’t schools, you know, collaborate with nursing schools and say, ‘Hey, send your nursing students here. They can at least assess the kids and say if they’re okay to stay or go. And then, we have some support, and you have the training you need hands on,’” Dr. Hartman said.
In a time where we’re all getting schooled in how to stay safe in a pandemic, students could end up helping other students.
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