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School nurses start getting scarce because of Medicaid problems

By Kentucky Health News

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

School-NurseIn 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, a managed-care company that 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.

Other school districts facing similar problems include Clark County and Bell County. 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 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 says that without reimbursement school nurses could lose their jobs, which would leave hundreds of kids without immediate medical care.

Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.