WEST CHESTER (September 16, 2020) – Legislation introduced by state Senator Andy Dinniman calls for ensuring that every school with students in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic has a school nurse on site during that time.
“The pandemic demands that we take a closer look at our policies regarding health and wellness in all our schools,” Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “And as more schools move to full in-person or hybrid learning models, there’s no question that the presence and accessibility of nurses in our schools is crucial to safe and healthy learning environments.”
According to Dinniman, Pennsylvania law provides the services of a certified school nurse in public, religious, and private schools. However, the current ratio of 1 nurse:1500 students simply does not provide the level of nursing services needed during the current COVID crisis. The fact is many public and non-public school buildings are without nursing services in the building on a daily basis.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health, in its August 15th guidance for COVID School Health Resources for School Nurses, makes clear the importance of the school nurse in the reopening of schools on an in-person or hybrid basis, Dinniman said.
Dinniman’s bill calls for utilizing $38 million in federal COVID funds provided by the CARES Act to pay for nurses in every building with over 100 students, public or non-public, through the 2020-2021 school year. He said it also utilizes statutory flexibility in that both registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can serve as the on-site school nurses, so long as they do so under the supervision or oversight of a certified school nurse (CSN).
“During this crisis, I learned that nearly half of all schools, public and nonpublic, have hired additional nurses, including RNs and LPNs, to assist in their schools. I estimate the $38 million allocation will assist in reimbursing the additional school buildings in need of nurses for the 2020-2021 school year,” Dinniman said. “Clearly, it’s going to be difficult to reopen schools without having nurses in the building. That’s precisely why the allocation of these funds is so important.”
Dinniman said funds can also cover the costs of a CSN overseeing a quarantine room in the school, currently not reimbursable.
In order to assist smaller schools and increase the availability and impact of the medical advice of the CSN going forward, Dinniman’s bill will also amend the current school code to require, when it is medically appropriate to do so, that school nurse services may be provided by means of a virtual or remote connection.
“Telemedicine has been an asset to many Pennsylvanians and Americans during this pandemic and we should take a similar approach in our schools, especially those that may not have a certified school nurse on site every day,” Dinniman said.