School nurses start getting scarcer, due to Medicaid problems

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

Students in many Kentucky counties will find it harder to see a school nurse due to changes in the state Medicaid program and lack of payment from managed-care companies.

Takirah Sleet, 7, and school nurse Michelle Marra looked at Takirah’s
lunch tray to calculate her insulin dosage at Lansdowne Elementary
Lexington. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Pablo Alcala)

In Crittenden County schools, budget woes have forced the Pennyrile District Health Department to request additional money from the school district to keep its school health clinics fully-staffed and open, reports Jason Travis of The Crittenden Press. Allison Beshear, director of the health department, told Travis one reason from the budget crunch is a lack of payment from Kentucky Spirit, which owes the health department $266,000.

Without additional money from the school district, Beshear says, the health department cannot maintain the current level of service at school clinics through the end of the school year.  Proposals have been made to offer services to the district that entail reducing clerical staff without reducing the number of nurses; but in order to do so, trained school staff would have to handle daily medication distribution and help to answer the phones for the clinic.

“Kentucky Spirit has filed two appeals with the Cabinet of Health
Services and the Finance Cabinet in which it claims to not be
financially responsible for healthcare given in school clinics,” reports Drew Adams of WKMS-FM in Murray reports in a story about similar problems in Hopkins County.

Other school districts facing similar problems include those of Bell, Clark and Pike counties. Eleven school health clinics in Bell County could be shut down by the end of this school year, reports WBIR-TV of Knoxville. In Clark County, a lawsuit between the state and Kentucky Spirit has put a halt to reimbursement for health services provided in county schools, reports Rachel Gilliam of The Winchester Sun.

Last month, the Pike County Board of Health filed a lawsuit against Kentucky Spirit because the managed-care firm has stopped reimbursing the Board of Health for school-nurse programs, reports Jordan Vilines of WYMT-TV in Hazard. The money has to be reimbursed in order to provide school nurses.

“I think having someone in the school to ensure that our children are healthy is imperative for the quality of life of our kids, especially in a very rural area,” Pike Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford told Vilines.  He said that without reimbursement, school nurses could lose their jobs, which would leave hundreds of kids without immediate medical care.

Kentucky Health News is an independent service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Health Kentucky.

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