Help Wanted: Prince George’s searches for full-time registered nurses for schools

The Prince George’s County Public School System is aggressively trying to recruit school nurses to build up its compliment of trained professionals to handle medical emergencies and other needs as it heads into a new school year in two weeks.

Angela M. Wakhweya, the school system’s chief of health policy, said the school system hopes to hire 20 full-time registered nurses to reach its goal of at least one nurse in each of the district’s 205 schools.

“We want a bachelor-level nurse in every school building,” Wakhweya said. “We are committed to that.”

School officials said the district is facing a 10 percent turnover rate and a 10 percent vacancy rate, leaving numerous positions unfilled.

The district recently raised its starting salary and provided raises to its nurses hoping to retain current staff and to attract others who have routinely taken jobs in other school systems or area hospitals. The hourly pay is now between $29.18 and $38.12.

Debbie Sullivan, director of human resource strategy and workforce planning, said the school system is hoping the pay increase will make the district more competitive. Prince George’s officials are trying to convey to prospective nurses that school district work provides flexibility.

“They look at the salary and it looks less, but a hospital pays for 12 months, this is 10 months,” she said.

The school board has provided funding for 236 full-time positions and the district currently has 20 of those spots available. Not every school building has a nurse physically present at all times. Some schools have more than one nurse because of the number of students at the school or the type of medical assistance some students need.

According to the National Association of School Nurses, the percentage of children and adolescents in the United States with chronic health conditions increased from about 2 percent in the 1960s to more than 25 percent in 2007. Local and national health officials say that percentage is likely higher today.

Wakhweya said school nurses in Prince George’s confront diabetes, severe allergies, asthma and mental illness.

The county had previously considered changing its nursing structure, including hiring nurses aides, who are placed in individual schools and supervised by registered nurses. But Wakhweya, who was hired by Schools Chief Kevin M. Maxwell last year, said there are no plans to change the district’s model.

She said the school system can’t afford to have staff other than registered nurses caring for the district’s 125,000 students.

“We need those who are highly qualified . . . because we face complex cases,” Wakhweya said.

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said there are no state guidelines on school nurse-to-student ratios.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that schools have one nurse for every 750 students.

Donna J. Mazyck, the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, said the situation in Prince George’s — where they are seeking to hire more nurses — is different than what most districts are facing. Mazyck said many of the nation’s school systems have fewer nurses because they have eliminated the positions through budget cuts.

Mazyck said that some school systems are trying to staff up their nursing corps because of recent health-related school tragedies, pointing to the case of a 12-year-old Philadelphia girl who died last year after having an asthma attack at a public school that did not have a full-time nurse.

Mazyck said parents in Philadelphia and other cities — including Charlotte, where a parent’s advocacy led to recent funding for one nurse for every school — have lobbied for their school systems to increase nurse staffing levels for student safety.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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