ATLANTA — ATLANTA – As children head back to school in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has put added emphasis on a profession that is suffering from a shortage.
According to the Georgia Association of School Nurses, 39 percent of all public schools in the state have a full-time, licensed nurse all day, every day. The rest staff their clinics in a variety of ways.
“You have nurses that may be assigned to one school or nurses that have clusters of schools so they travel around,” says Melanie Bales, a Nursing Supervisor with Cobb County Schools and President of the Georgia Association of School Nurses. “There are scenarios where there’s a nurse at a particular school one day a week and they have to rely on other personnel to care for issues that come up.”
The shortage is a nationwide issue and there are several reasons why.
Funding for school nurses comes from a variety of sources.
“The funding drives everything,” says Bales.
The NURSE Act would increase federal funding for more school nurses. The bill died in Congress in 2018, but supporters are trying again.
“By and large, there is a misunderstand of what it is school nurses really do,” says Laurie Combe, President of the National Association of School Nurses. “We’re doing prevention. We’re providing high-level nursing assessments.”
And in many cases, they’re training the people who provide health care when they’re not inside a school.
Georgia is one of many states facing an overall shortage of nurses. Those who choose nursing as a profession are often drawn to places other than schools.
“The salaries are not comparable to what they would be in other arenas where nurses may work and that becomes a huge challenge,” says Bales.
The National Association of School Nurses is asking Congress for funding to pay for an additional 10,000 school nurses, but Combe says that would still leave the country about 20,000 short.
The Georgia Association of School Nurses has a petition asking the state to fund an additional 200 nurses.