3/6/2009, 2:25 a.m. PT
The Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Shortages have been colliding with shortfalls in Salem this legislative session, and it was no different this week when lawmakers dealing with a severe deficit were confronted by those who say Oregon must hire more school nurses.
A state task force reported last fall that Oregon has a critical shortage of school nurses, and the problem endangers student health and leaves school districts vulnerable to lawsuits.
Legislators are debating how to increase the ranks of school nurses at a time when the budget shortfall is massive, taxpayers are losing their incomes and advocates for numerous causes are looking for more money.
A bill under consideration would set statewide nurse-to-student ratios in schools. Oregon ranks 49th among states for its student-to-nurse ratio, with one nurse per 3,142 students, a legislative panel was told Wednesday. Top-ranked Vermont has one nurse per 275 students, but the national average is one per 1,151 students.
"There’s an assumption out there that there’s a nurse in every school five days a week," Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland. "That is just not the case."
In the Salem-Keizer School District, 14.6 nurses serve 40,200 students — a ratio of about one nurse per 2,750 students, the Statesman Journal newspaper reported. Across the district, 7,173 students have health-management plans, with varying levels of needs — 41 require daily, direct, continuous nursing service.
During the past 10 years, the number of nurses in Oregon schools has declined while the number of students with serious health conditions has increased, according to the task force established by the 2007 Legislature. As a result of that trend, nurses must delegate some work to people who may not be trained to perform it.
"We are one bad outcome away from our courts mandating we do something on this issue," said Jack Dempsey of the Oregon Nurses Association.
The proposal encourages school districts to provide one nurse for every 750 students, on a phased-in schedule through 2020. An undetermined amount of money would be designated from the general fund to complete an analysis of school nursing needs and to help districts prepare to comply with requirements.
Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com
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