School nurse shortage in Portsmouth worries some parents

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by Karen Hopkins, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on May 7, 2014 at 12:17 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 7 at 6:11 PM

PORTSMOUTH-- A shortage of school nurses has many parents in Portsmouth worried.

So far this year, the district has lost seven nurses.

“This has probably been one of our toughest years for holding onto nurses and substitutes,” Portsmouth Health Services Supervisor Fran Gray said.

“This is unacceptable; please help,” mom Sierra Dillard wrote to 13News Now.

Portsmouth Public schools officials say they’re having a hard time hiring nurses.

“Why is it so difficult? The hospitals pay a lot more than we do,” Superintendent Dave Stuckwisch said.

The salary for a Portsmouth school nurse starts at $25,718 and rises to $40,744. Nurses who work in hospitals can earn at least double that income.

“The folks coming out of school now are expecting big salaries and school nurses don’t supply that,” Gray noted.

Five of Portsmouth's seven nursing jobs were filled, but there are still two vacancies at Churchland Primary and Intermediate and Cradock Middle School.  At Cradock, Gray said they hired a nurse who didn’t last long. 

“She quit after two months because she couldn’t make it on the salary,” Gray said. 

Schools without nurses do train office workers to be “medical designees” who can distribute medicine to students. They also try to hire substitute nurses for $85 a day.

Virginia law doesn’t require local schools to have or give state funding for school nurses. However, the Portsmouth school board has voted historically to use city money to assign one nurse at each of its 24 schools.

The district hires only registered nurses.  Licensed practical nurses have lower salaries, but don’t have as much training.

Gray became a school nurse because the schedule allowed her to spend time with her children.

“My husband was working full time and we were able to balance the salary. I took a 50 percent pay cut to go into school nursing,” Gray said.

Stuckwisch said the flexibility of school nursing is the biggest selling point.

“Hospital nurses have to work 12-hour shifts, including nights and weekends,” Stuckwisch pointed out.

Dillard is hoping a nurse will apply to work at her daughter’s school.  She was shocked to learn there wasn’t one.

“My daughter had an asthma attack in school.  I immediately took her to receive care,” Dillard said.

For more information about job openings, click here or call Fran Gray at (757)393-8661.
 

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