Published Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Readers speak out about school nurse cuts

By Brenda Pedraza-Vidamour

The Newnan Times-Herald

Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposal to eliminate $30 million in school nurse funding for the 2010 fiscal year struck a chord with The Times-Herald's readers, judging by results of a Times-Herald poll.

The Quick Vote Poll, which asks questions related to hot news topics, asked Friday: "With the impending cuts by Gov. Perdue, does Coweta County really need a school nurse at every school?"

More than 1,500 people responded to the unscientific poll online, three times more than any other Quick Vote Poll, including past questions posed about some hot local topics such as Starship's business permit and Sunday drink sales.

Several Coweta parents, including Melody Farmer and Michele Meyer, are two of many who appreciated why the question provoked such an overwhelming response in favor of nurses at each school (1,357 voted yes, 196 voted no).

Farmer, a registered nurse who works at Elm Street Elementary, is also the parent of a child who has suffered since childhood with diabetes. The young man is now a junior in college.

"He was diagnosed at 4. He went to elementary school without a school nurse, so one of the reasons I didn't work was to be able to go to the school and monitor him," she said.

Farmer, who is married to local school board member Frank Farmer, explained how she stayed at home to be available for their son's care until the Coweta County School System hired school nurses for each of their schools in 2000.

Before then, Farmer stayed on alert and on call. She went to his school daily to monitor his blood sugar at lunch, accompany him on every field trip, attend every party or school event that offered food, and was at the school each time his regular teacher was out and a substitute was called in for the class.

"Many times I'd go five times a day to check his blood sugar," she said. "I would go at lunch time and give him a shot. If I had an errand I had to do, I'd do it immediately as soon as he had lunch because that was before everyone had cell phones."

Back then, Farmer even started working as a substitute teacher to ensure his medical care was never compromised, especially when substitute teachers unfamiliar with his medical condition or history were in his class.

"We stayed very nervous," she explained. "I would pretty much be at the school a lot just because I felt uncomfortable with him as a small child."

"That was one of the main reasons why I became a school nurse -- because I saw, as a parent, how important it was and how needed nurses were in the school system," she added.

Meyer, another parent of a diabetic child, said Farmer's anxiety nine years ago was what she experienced before she moved from Texas about a year ago.

"That was my world before I moved to Georgia," she said. "They weren't equipped to deal with that. I took him to school, and I went back an hour and a half later for snack time, an hour and a half later for lunch, for every field trip, for any unusual type of exercise, and if it was a rainy day and he wasn't going to get any exercise. I needed to know that because (monitoring the blood sugar) was a constant."

Her first grade son uses an insulin pump, and Meyer said it's a huge benefit that Coweta has a nurse on staff at his school because the nurse is trained on how the pump works, including his dosing requirements and the pump's mechanics.

"If there's a problem with... any of the workings of the pump, she was able to fix it," she said.

At her son's school, there are not only students who suffer with diabetes, but sickle cell anemia, hydrocephalus and other conditions that need a health care professional's attention.

"[The nurse] is able to administer to them and knows what to do, whereas with a teacher, it would consume her day and consume her mind so much that she had to be so alert with everything going on with that child that it would really be difficult to teach a class. It is integral to the safety and welfare of these children to have a nurse on hand."

While both Farmer and Meyer were able to stay at home as well as get work at the school where their children attended, Meyer said it's not a practical solution for every parent who has a child with a medical condition.

"I wouldn't be able to work unless I could get a job at the school, and how realistic is that for that many people to be able to do that. A lot of families would not be able to deal with it. It'd be very hard. And a lot of times you've got to work to be able to carry insurance."

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