Schools may still get more nurses

J. Alfredo Santana

The current California budget crunch failed to save a lesser known assembly bill introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Joe Coto from San Jose, which would have allowed the hiring of full-time credentialed nurses to work in many elementary schools.

AB 760 aimed to launch a statewide program to ensure basic nursing and health services for elementary school students in districts with at least 1,500 pupils.

However, a new and improved version of this bill may come back next year with a proposal to garner funds from federal and state agencies.

“AB 760 never got out of the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. The way it was written would have forced the hiring of nurses in counties’ school services, in addition to their hiring for elementary school districts,” said Mike Walsh, communications director for Assemblyman Coto. “It was too costly.”

Walsh said the financial tag would have cost several millions of dollars since a full-time position for a credentialed nurse would have cost $100,000 a year to cover salary, medical supplies and office equipments.

“The goal is to get more nurses hired to serve the student population in California’s elementary schools,” Walsh said. “We worked this bill this year, but the current state of the state’s finances didn’t allow it to survive.”

Currently, California has 1,000 elementary school districts. Only 48 percent of these districts have part-time nurses in their staff. About 50 percent of all school districts do not have a part-time nurse to attend to children in cases from lax nutrition to emergencies such as fractures and digestive problems.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued guidelines to promote better nurse-to-children ratios in the nation’s school districts. It advises that each district have at least one nurse per 750 active school children and one credentialed nurse per 225 chronically ill students or those with disabilities.

In addition, AB 760 would have required school districts to report to the state’s Department of Education the number of students with acute or chronic diseases.

Martha Harmon, coordinator of the nurse credential program at CSUN, said all the students she has worked with have much more than 750 children to attend to in several schools and that the nurse-to-children ratio is way higher than what should be reasonably manageable.

“Some school nurses are responsible for three or four elementary schools. To me, this is a bigger issue,” Harmon said.

Liz Jacobs, communication coordinator with the California Nurses Association (CAN), said her organization supports legislation that protects salaries and overall working conditions for nurses. She said this proposal would have improved the overall better health picture of people in California.

“CAN is very supportive of this (proposal). We have actively worked for its passage. It speaks to the importance of prevention in the grand scheme of healthcare reform, ” Jacobs said.