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Parents worried over low numbers of school nurses in Oregon schools

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At one school nurse for every 3,000 students, Oregon ranks among the lowest states in the country for nurse-to-student ratio, which experts say should be around one nurse for 750 students. (KPTV) At one school nurse for every 3,000 students, Oregon ranks among the lowest states in the country for nurse-to-student ratio, which experts say should be around one nurse for 750 students. (KPTV)
BEAVERTON, OR (KPTV) -

A dire shortage of school nurses in Oregon means many students with chronic health conditions aren't supported during the school day like the public may think.

In fact, the National Association of School Nurses told FOX 12 that Oregon rates among the worst states for access to nurses for students.

"Oregon does have one of the poorest student-to-school nurse ratios in the country, and we're not exactly sure why," President-elect for the National Association of School Nurses Nina Fekaris said.

In addition to her role with the National Association of Nurses, Fekaris also happens to work in the Beaverton School District. She said the student to nurse ratio in any school should be one nurse for 750 students.

In Oregon, however, that ratio is one nurse to about 3,000 kids.  Beyond that, she estimates some 40 percent of school districts across the state don't even have nurses at all.

"Right now the burden falls a lot on our secretaries and school staff has to pick up a lot of pieces," Fekaris said.

That can lead to worries for families like that of 9-year-old Reece Charters, who requires insulin all day long.

Her family says the soon-to-be fourth-grader at Aloha-Huber Park was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes years ago, a disease that comes with many challenges.

"We don't do a long-acting insulin, we do a pump, so she gets her insulin every three minutes" Reece’s mother Madelyn Charters explained. “She has needs while she's at school.”

Those needs during school are what worry Charters. Right now she said her daughter's school nurse is required to split her time between four different schools in the district.

That means that sometimes when Reece needs help there's no nurse in the building.

"We have a secretary that works there, that we know well and that we really trust, and she's amazing,” Charters said. “But she's not an RN, and she is, a lot of times, giving Reece her care."

Charters said she knows that is not the expected level of care.

"To be honest with you, I'm not really that pleased with it,” she said. “And I know personally by working in a hospital that we require two nurses to do insulin verification before it's given to patients."

It turns out that this kind of situation is happening at schools all across the state.

Fekaris said the problem isn't a shortage of nurses themselves, rather a lack of school funding to support their salaries.

And these shortages come at a time, she said, when school nurses are needed more than ever.

"What we've seen is the change in kids’ health over the last 20 years,” Fekaris said. “I've been a school nurse almost 30 years, and when I started here in Beaverton, we didn't have any children in the district that had Type 1 Diabetes. And now we have over 150."

In addition to more students needing regular medical care, Fekaris said that the specific care they need is more advanced than in the past.

"Not only do we have children with Type 1 Diabetes, their treatments have changed,” she said. “We’re calculating carbs for snacks, breakfast and lunches, giving insulin twice, sometimes three times a day."

Fekaris added that she's also seen asthma and anaphylaxis cases skyrocket, along with depression and anxiety. This, on top of the day-to-day things like scraped knees and fevers.

“Really it's about the kids,” she said. “We believe that school nurses are vital to help support the health and safety of children at school.”

Fekaris is now part of a governor-appointed task force in Oregon, working to figure out how to improve the situation.

She said the group is looking at a marijuana tax or a soda tax that could be kicked back to support school health services, or possibly even billing Medicaid. Ideally, they hope to see new legislation that could free up emergency funds.

However it is they find the funding, Madelyn Charters said her family just hopes it happens soon.

"This is a dire issue and ultimately… it comes down to a child's life," she said. "I feel like somebody needs to be there to monitor kids."

Fekaris told FOX 12 that the governor’s task force is hoping to have their final report to the legislature by September 15.

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