We were notified by the State Department of Health that due to a pending state budget amendment, "Lyons Amendment 577," Andover stands to lose significant support of its school nursing program.
For the past four years, Andover has been lucky to procure more than $400,000 through the Essential School Health Services Grant, funded by the state Department of Public Health. In addition to other improvements, this has enabled us to provide a second nurse for Andover High School and purchase defibrillators for the central administrative building and the High School Field House and update defibrillators in all school buildings.
School nursing has changed significantly over the seven years I have worked in our public schools. The complexity of our students with learning disabilities and health issues has been a conversation topic for several years in relation to the effects on the school budget. How we have managed the increasing costs in nursing has virtually been unnoticed and that's because we have been extremely lucky to receive the public health grant.
Students, parents and staff who frequent the school clinics would have certainly noticed visual changes in terms of safety, cleanliness, organization and availability of resources. The nurses will tell you how the increased burden has been eased with the help of qualified substitute staff.
Over the past four years we have seen student visits increase by 30 percent, the number of students taking daily medications has increased by 35 percent and the complexity of medical issues has risen dramatically. Students we assist have a variety of medical issues and include diabetic students, students with head injuries, heart concerns, allergies, asthma, students on ventilators, those who need medication and nutrition to be given through a tube in their stomach, students who need to be catheterized and students with intravenous lines.
Andover school nurses dealt with over 43,000 visits, gave more than 10,000 medications and performed over 16,000 screenings during the 2010-11 school year. We have not increased our core staffing. Nurses are working harder than ever.
The money received through the grant has allowed me to purchase equipment, increase safety and security, provide training so our staff can deal with the increased complexity of students and provide extra staffing to handle the increase in student visits. We have supported and maintained an electronic medical record system, developed programs to manage student health issues and increased the visibility of nurses throughout our community. The list of accomplishments is too long to be included, however, I invite interested parties to review our nursing portfolio for a detailed description.
While the recommendation in Massachusetts suggests one nurse for every 750 students, our high school budget provides one nurse and one health assistant for 1,800 students. With 70 plus visits per day, it is very difficult for the solo high school nurse to manage this building without additional nursing help. Grant money has enabled me to provide some substitute assistance most days of the week.
At the elementary level, it would be impossible to input all of the medical information, screen all of the students and see 50-80 students per day without some nursing and administrative assistance. Again, money from the grant has come to our rescue.
Times are lean. The majority of my staff live in Andover and we all understand the effects the economy has had on our own lives and those around us.
Today, I ask you for your assistance:
Representatives in Andover have the opportunity to vote on the amendment #577, to reduce the School Based Health Services budget to $0. This would directly affect Andover by taking away the Essential School Health Services Grant. Please support us by not reducing this essential fund to Andover.
Additionally, please recognize our nurses as we embark on an uncertain future with rising healthcare costs and increased medical complexities. Thank them for working tirelessly through these tough economic times as they continue to provide seamless nursing care, while implementing creative programs to address the needs of our community.
Resident Rita Casper, RN, MBA is APS District Coordinator for Nursing Services.