Parents Fight School Board Decision on Nurses

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COLUMBIA - A group of Columbia parents are up in arms with the board of education over a decision to dismiss a unit of nurses who worked with their special needs children. On May 31, ten families received letters from the school board informing them the nursing care their children receive at school would change in the 2013-2014 school year.

These 10 families all have severely handicapped children in need of nursing assistance while at school. Currently, each family uses a nurse from different companies. Six use Integrity, one uses Advantage and three use Phoenix--all paid by district funds for work while at school.

Columbia Public Schools routinely spend more than $200,000 per year on skilled nursing services. A school policy states the board is required to send out for bid through request for proposal (RFP) any contracted service exceeding $15,000. Due to an oversight, the nursing services the school uses were not sent out for bid until this year.

"The whole reason we sent it out for RFP was because we weren't contracted with one company. We had all these different contracts with different nursing companies for the needs for our students," school board president Christine King said.

The board decided nursing services will be exclusively contracted through Phoenix Home Health Care beginning in the next school year, forcing seven families to say goodbye to the nurses that have helped their kids in school for years.

Two of these families, the Wades and the Lindseys, are fighting that decision, stating the change will be detrimental to their children.

Stacey Lindsey said her 16-year-old son Joe has told her repeatedly he doesn't want a new nurse.

"If he was OK with getting a different nurse at school I would let it go," Lindsey said. "But he said to me he wants his old nurse."

Jenny Wade said her son, Austin, lights up when his nurse comes into the room.

"He knows her, he responds to her voice and smiles when he hears it. Her voice helps him calm down," Wade said.

Further more, Austin Wade's doctor wrote to the school board, stating "While I am sensitive to the financial stressors CPS must operate under, I do feel very strongly that it is in Austin's best interest medically to continue to receive care from Nancy (his current nurse) and that an exception should be made in his case. To move to a new company and have a new nurse come on board, even if skilled in the care of special needs children, would be a significant set back for Austin."

King said she understands it is an emotional issue, however it comes down to finances.

"The reality is if we don't manage our money right we're going to run out of money for whatever service," King said.

King also said the families have been put in a very difficult situation, however she said there is no guarantee the family's current nurses will be around forever.

"They could quit; they could move away," King said. "So we need to take into consideration what is best for the student and for the district."

On May 3, 2012 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law legislation created to protect students with disabilities and give parents the right to choose the nurses provided to their children during the school day.

One of the bill's sponsors, New Jersey state senator James Beach, said "Parents of students with serious health conditions and who need constant care and attention should be confident that the care their child is receiving at school is at least comparable to the care that they receive at home."

The Wades and the Lindseys said they have contacted state representatives to push for similar legislation and will continue to fight the school board's decision.

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