Ten-county Lake Cumberland District Health Department is the latest to ask schools to foot more of the bill for school nurses

The Lake Cumberland District Health Department told school districts in its 10-county area in December that it would no longer be able to pay for nurses for each school, setting off negotiations with the districts.

Somerset Independent Schools Supt. Boyd Randolph said one option would have the schools employ the nurses but contract them back to the health department in order to bill for the full extent of Medicaid services, Chris Harris reports for The Commonwealth-Journal.

Health Department Executive Director Shawn Crabtree told the Somerset newspaper that his agency was “running a deficit” because it wasn’t being paid as much for treating Medicaid patients. 

Schools all over Kentucky have been faced with this “unfunded mandate,” as Editor Stevie Lowery called it in an article for the The Lebanon Enterprise. If a student requires medical care in order to attend school, state law requires school districts to provide the care, but doesn’t necessarily provide a way to pay for it.

The dwindling number of school nurses last year prompted a new law to allow school personnel who aren’t licensed health care professionals to administer or help a student self-administer insulin and otherwise treat diabetes symptoms if they take certain training.

Surrounding Somerset, each school in the Pulaski County School District has its own in-house nurse, as does every school in the regional health department’s coverage area, with the cost shared by the school system and the health department, Harris reports. Asst. Supt. Sonya Wilds told the Commonwealth Journal last month that the schools pay approximately $20,000 per nurse.

The department has proposed that the schools pay the full cost of employing 12 nurses, which will fall “in the neighborhood” of $750,000, about three times what they pay now, Supt. Steve Butcher told Harris. “Of course, we would receive money back from the health department on Medicaid claims, but . . . it’s hard for me to wrap my head around how much that would be worth to us,” he said.

As school officials consider all of their options, they are also looking at the individual needs of schools, with the understanding that these needs constantly change and are like a “moving target.”

“We’ve got some schools that have kids with feeding tubes, and some schools that are heavy on [students with] diabetes,” Butcher told Harris. “It’s not necessarily bigger schools that have more issues, it’s just schools have specific kids that have got needs that we can’t do anything about and need additional help.”

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