County furloughs school nurses as classes go online

The Palm Beach County Health Care District notified more than 200 school health care staff members that their work is suspended.

The Palm Beach Post | By John Pacenti | July 20, 2020

They tend to routine student boo-boos and bellyaches as well as the more serious health problems for their young charges. Parents trust them with their children’s lives.

But some 233 school health employees, woven into the educational experience, on Monday became collateral damage to the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Palm Beach County’s Health Care District, which employs the nurses, health care technicians and their supervisors, confirmed on Monday that it made the “difficult decision” to furlough them. The furlough follows one that came in March.

“How can a nurse be out of a job during a pandemic? That just blows my mind,” said one school nurse who declined to be identified.

The reason cited for the furloughs is simple: The county’s school district announced it would start the school year with remote learning with no end in sight.

Some of these nurses will not be coming back even when in-person classes resume.

The Health Care District last week advised the nurses and health technicians that 60 of the most senior nurses, including supervisors, will be offered buyouts. They had until the end of Monday to make a decision or join their colleagues on furlough.

“Once the school district releases its plan to return to school, the Health Care District will respond accordingly, including plans to staff the same number of public schools, nearly 170, with a full-time registered nurse,” the Health Care District said in a statement.

The taxpayer-supported Health Care District contributes the lion’s share of the millions of dollars needed to fund in-school healthcare – with the school district also contributing.

The Health Care District said the nurses can cash in vacation and sick time. It also informed them that nurses can keep their health insurance if they pay the portion of it that had been deducted from their pay.

“Which is very hard when we don’t have income coming in,” said the school nurse who spoke to The Post. “I have already used all my PTO and all my sick time.”

Nurses may be able to pick up shifts at the district’s clinics, which have conducted some 58,000 coronavirus tests. They also will be called upon to work if hurricane shelters open.

“It is all so frustrating. We’ve all been crying. We are like a little family,” the nurse said. “It’s disheartening to feel that we are very disposable.”

Besides the nurses who take the buyout, others may not be back when brick-and-mortar classes start up again.

“We have no other options but to try to find a job. I can’t sit around waiting to see what will happen indefinitely,” the nurse said

The school nurse’s job is so much more than putting a Band-aid on a knee scrape.

The nurse who spoke to The Post says it falls on the nurse to keep tabs on students with severe allergies and to hold on to the epinephrine in case they go into the anaphylactic shock. She had to call 911 numerous times because of medical emergencies.

They help with school activities, such as non-perishable food drives and volunteering to help out for the school.

“We love our jobs. We want to go back to school health, to be there for the kids,” the nurse said.

“I just want the school district to know that when they do finally decide to open up with children, there are going to be a lack of school nurses left.”

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