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Oregon education funds put 'school nurses in competition with math and science teachers'

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SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - Oregon has one of the worst school nurse shortages in the country, according to a study released last fall by the Oregon School Nurses Association and the Oregon Nurses Association

Kevin Mealy, spokesman for the ONA, said those numbers have not improved for this school year.

Mealy said most school districts are still far from meeting the state-recommended number of school nurses: 1 nurse for every 750 students.

That includes the Springfield School District.

Tanya Martin is one of four registered nurses for the district. Last year, the student-to-nurse ration was one nurse for every 3,594 students.

"We have a huge shortage here," Martin said.

Martin said school nurses are needed now more than ever.

They are treating a growing number of complex health problems, like anaphylaxis, seizures, and asthma.

Although every school in the district has an un-licensed health aid, some conditions, like diabetes, can only be treated by a registered nurse. Close to 2,000 students in the Springfield School District are considered "medically complex."

"We spent a lot of our days running to each school giving insulin to our diabetics," Martin said.

The Springfield Schools Health Center also provide health plans, health education, and health advocacy, especially to low-income families.

"We send people here that don't already have a primary care physician, that might not have insurance," Martin said.

Studies show that healthy kids are better able to focus, get better grades, and have better attendance. Martin said, instead of simply sending a sick kid home, registered nurses are able to get to the root of the problem.

"We can figure out that their stomach ache isn't a stomach ache," Martin said. "They're hungry at home. Or they haven't seen a pediatrician in a couple of years."

The shortage in school nurses is due, in part, to a lack of funding.

"Right now the funds for school nurses come out of the general education fund," Mealy said, "which really puts school nurses in competition with math and science teachers and all the other education needs."

There is help on the horizon. Newly-signed Senate Bill 111 allows schools to bill Medicaid for school nursing services. School districts will be allowed to collaborate with the Oregon Health Authority, Department of Education and other districts to create pilot projects that expand their use of Medicaid billing.

Governor Kate Brown signed the bill on August 8, 2017. A spokesperson for Springfield Schools says the district's leadership will discuss whether or not they will apply for funding.

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