Nurses Speak Out

Pending cuts to school district’s health services have nurses worried about caring for students

A late wave of influenza cases in Onondaga County has revealed the strain that pending cuts could have on health services in the Syracuse Central School District.

City school nurses already are stretched thin by a high number of chronically ailing children, many of whom depend solely upon in-school health care.

The school board passed a budget March 9 that proposed district-wide cuts of about 20 percent, in response to a $65 million deficit. The budget, now waiting for Mayor Stephanie Miner’s approval, calls for a 12 percent cut to health services. The cut will likely compromise the nurses’ ability to provide adequate care for more than 20,000 students across district schools, said Maritza Alvarado, the district’s director of health services.

The unusually late wave of county flu cases, which doubled in the final weeks of February, caused a rise in students with fevers and other flu-like symptoms, Alvarado said. Sudden high-traffic times make district nurses aware of understaffing and the impending cuts to their departments in the 2012 budget.

“For us, it’s mostly staffing cuts,” Alvarado said. The district employs about 50 nurses and a dozen health attendants, the secretaries who travel between schools, she said. She did not say how many staff members the district might let go.

Nurses will have less time to treat children once the district cuts medical attendants, who do the secretarial work, Alvarado said. District nurses will take on more clerical duties after the department downsizes.

Kathryn Adamy, a district nurse, called on the school board at its February budget meeting to evaluate the consequences of downsizing a department that often provides the only health care students, insured or not, receive all year.

“We have to remember our obligation is first and foremost to the children of this district, who deserve — for everything else they will be forced to forgo in the coming years of their educational careers — to learn with the confidence that they can breathe and eat and play safely in our buildings and on our watch,” she said.

 

— Story by Beckie Strum, Urban Affairs reporter