A step towards proper medical staffing

Nine Oregon school districts will take part in a pilot project to obtain federal reimbursement for providing healthcare to special education students thanks to a bill backed by OSEA.

Oregon has a major school nursing shortage, as the recent Task Force on School Nursing report indicates: Our schools have only one certified and/or licensed registered nurse for every 2,178 students — well short of the industry recommendation of 1 nurse for every 750 students. OSEA had a seat on the Task Force, and helped steer the discussion from just talk into action that will benefit students and staff across the state.

The lack of nurses means classified school employees are often performing medical procedures best left to medical personnel, such as catheterizing, tube feeding, administering oxygen and much more.

Unlike most states, Oregon pays school nurses almost entirely out of the State School Fund, subject to wax and wane with our state’s volatile education budget. The Lund Report’s Chris Gray found that Oregon schools receive just $3.3 million from the federal government to care for special education students, while Montana — with about a quarter of Oregon’s population — gets $35.7 million.

Sponsored by Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, Senate Bill 111 establishes a pilot program in nine Oregon school districts to help them begin billing Medicaid for services provided to students. Districts would apply funds currently spent on medical services as the state’s one-third Medicaid share, with the federal government matching at a nearly two-to-one ratio, according to Lund Report.

Students benefit tremendously when they have access to school nurses on a regular basis: For example, one study in Kentucky found that students were more than three times as likely to get sent home when they were seen by an unlicensed educational employee rather than a school nurse.

OSEA Government Relations Specialist Soren Metzger, who represented OSEA on the task force, lauded this opportunity to improve the student experience without harming existing employees or programs. She praised the boosterism of Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, who was also on the Task Force.

“Schools are the only place where non-medically trained school personnel like secretaries and IAs/EAs are being told to provide complex medical procedures for their students, such as urinary catheterization, feeding tubes, suctioning, etc,” Metzger said. “Getting more nurses in schools serves student needs and allows other education staff to focus on their jobs.”

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