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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

School District Nurse Layoffs Generate Numerous Student Service Concerns

BY JULIE FULMER WALLACH


School nurses are experiencing layoffs and the possibility of long-term changes to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s health services infrastructure.
At a recent nurses’ meeting, Debra Moore Washington, assistant superintendent for human resources, publicly laid-off 6.6 nurses. Layoffs were made in the presence of an attending guest speaker and in front of the nurses’ colleagues.
Anne Ernst, Malibu High School nurse, described the manner in which layoffs were issued as “unprofessional, cold and dehumanizing.”
Juan Cabrillo nurse Meg Mahon, who received a layoff notice from the district, shared that Washington apologized for the way layoffs were handled, but Ernst said that nurses notified their union of how layoffs were handled.
Ernst said, “In the past, nurses have met with HR personnel individually rather than in a public forum. It was demoralizing.”
In an interview with The News, Ernst shared her concern that the district will “replace nurses with less qualified staff. As people that deal with students directly, we won’t be able to provide the services we have in the past and perform good assessments for a variety of health-related issues.”
A concerned parent said at Malibu High School’s PTSA meeting last Thursday that Malibu’s remote location from a hospital creates more of a need for nurses on campus.
There are currently 11 FTE nurses, with two of those positions temporary until June. The board approved 5.6 FTE nurses, which translates a total of nine nurses districtwide. An extra “precautionary” layoff was also made.
At the district board meeting last Thursday, Washington provided a job description for licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs, who could possibly replace nurses at some point. An LVN can perform certain medical procedures such as give injections and administer medication. While RNs in the district have bachelors and masters degrees along with teaching credentials, LVNs are high school graduates with two years experience in a medical setting.
Washington said, “It’s not that we know now that we are going to use the job description right away, but it gives us the ability to use it now or in the future. There are several areas of the LVN job description that we’ll be doing more work on. It will come back to the board for approval after more discussion. We may need some legal opinion about what an LVN can and can't do.”
Marolyn Freeman, director of student services for the district, stated, “LVNs cannot function in a school without the supervision of an RN.”
Board member Jose Escarce, who is an MD said, “There are things that an LVN can do very well. Skills are different, they are at different levels of education, but everyone has skills they can contribute. I want to make sure that we recognize limitations but acknowledge what they can do.”
Ben Allen, vice president of the board added, “Everyone was concerned with the extent to which services were being compromised, so how do we expand coverage given all of the factors? How do we get medical coverage at every campus given budget constraints?”
Boardmember Nimish Patel said, “There is a certain level of frustration because, why would we jeopardize the health and safety of our children? It is very frustrating that we have to make all these sacrifices but we do.”
“It is important to ask where the other cuts are and why are budget cuts on the backs of nurses,” Mahon said.
Anne Ernst concluded, “Our job involves a lot more than passing out band-aids. We provide screening for emotional issues that may otherwise go undetected. If students are not healthy or too anxious, they cannot learn. Health goes hand-in-hand with learning.”

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