Community says losing school nursing supervisor is wrong kind of director’s cut

The decision to reduce Greenwich Public Schools Nursing Supervisor Kathy Mignone’s position from full-time to half-time has left many district parents and fellow nurses worried about student safety.

In late February, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie sent a letter to school staff members announcing the non-certified staff reductions for the 2013-14 school year, effective July 1, 2013. Among the cuts were administrative staff assistant II for the assistant superintendent, confidential assistant for the Board of Education/Communications and the contracts coordinator, but it is the nursing supervisor’s reduction of hours that had the district abuzz at the Board of Education’s March 21 meeting.

Within the letter, Dr. McKersie stated that reductions are based on the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s (BET’s) budget guidelines for the Board of Education and cited a “difficult budget year” and “weak economy” as reasons for the cuts. Many community members, however, said reducing the nursing supervisor position is a dangerous move.

Eastern Middle School nurse Angelina Lucas urged the Board of Education at the meeting to consider the effects on the health of students and staff if Ms. Mignone’s position is reduced to part-time. Ms. Mignone provides district nurses with “advanced, didactic and clinical knowledge” that the staff relies on, Ms. Lucas said. “School nurses need access to a clinical supervisor who understands their profession and their scope of tactics.”

Furthermore, she said, critical medical situations can happen at any given time and “don’t conform to a part-time schedule.” Quoting a letter that the town’s nurses’ union sent to Dr. McKersie on March 1, Ms. Lucas told the board that “health issues and crises do not wait for the day or time that the nursing supervisor is present; they occur at any given time and can leave a lasting mark on a school if they are not handled correctly.”

Further drawing from the letter, Ms. Lucas asked the board who would attend state and regulatory meetings to clarify state laws and to ensure that the district’s health offices were in compliance if Ms. Mignone’s position is reduced. For a number of reasons, “a district without a full-time nursing supervisor is leaving itself open to litigious situations,” Ms. Lucas said.

Greenwich High School nurse Mary Ann O’Connor also spoke on Ms. Mignone’s behalf, explaining to the board that “she unifies nurses working in all 17 Greenwich schools so we provide the high-quality care that you should expect.” Ms. Mignone is also a vital resource in times of crisis, Ms. O’Connor said, because multiple emergencies can and do occur in different parts of a school building simultaneously. When the nursing staff needs “extra hands,” they can count on their supervisor to respond immediately, creating a “seamless transition” until the crisis has passed, she said.

Additionally, Ms. O’Connor said, “teachers may not realize how a diagnosis or medication affects a student.” Nurses look to their supervisor — “a medical professional in educators’ world” — for support and advice, she said.

Also stepping up to the plate to save the nursing supervisor position was Julie Prescott, school nurse at Parkway, who has shared some of Ms. Mignone’s daily tasks. Ms. Mignone oversees more than 20 nurses at 17 schools and is aware of all children in the district who have a medical condition, Ms. Prescott said. She is also in charge of providing substitute nurses to schools when their school nurse calls out sick, and has a good understanding of each health office’s layout, allowing her to easily assist substitutes, she said.

Ms. Prescott went on to deliver a lengthy list of Ms. Mignone’s other duties, including hiring nursing staff, arranging staff development days, keeping track of payroll and vacation time, and organizing nurses for summer school coverage. With students who are wheelchair-bound or suffer from diabetes, seizure disorders and other complex medical conditions, Ms. Prescott said, it was critical that the board reconsider the reduction of the nursing supervisor position.

Ruth Holz, president of the local nurses’ union and a nurse who has served the district for the last 19 years, also spoke at the meeting, insisting that the nursing supervisor holds a vital role as liaison for students, parents, educators, doctors, and school nurses. Having met with Dr. McKersie to discuss the issue earlier this month, Ms. Holz said, she believed the superintendent had still not received enough information on the impact that cutting the position would have on the health and safety of students, staff and school visitors.

Parents were also vocal about the issue at Thursday’s meeting. Suzette Harris, the parent of two children with diabetes at Eastern Middle School, said she represented a group of other concerned parents who have diabetic children in the school system.

“The importance of a well-managed nursing system is paramount to our families,” Ms. Harris said.

Parents rely on the nursing supervisor to be on-site “every minute of the school day” to ensure that there is adequate medical coverage, she said. Proper monitoring of children with diabetes, “a silent disease,” is vital throughout the day, she added. Children who suffer from the disease or any other chronic illnesses “depend on and deserve a flawless system” overseen by a nursing supervisor in all 17 Greenwich public schools, Ms. Harris said.

The parent of a boy with epilepsy and another child with severe food allergies, Courtnay Kittell, was visibly upset while addressing the board. If it wasn’t for Ms. Mignone, she said, her son would not be in the public school system. The nursing supervisor made her believe that her epileptic son was safe in the school system, despite others who insisted he should attend a private school, she said. He’s one of several students who would be turned away from public schooling without the “skilled, professional nursing staff here,” including Ms. Mignone, Ms. Kittell said.

“I’m so proud of the Greenwich school system and what they’re providing my child,” she said.

Nurses are “on the front lines” with students they keep safe daily, Ms. Kittell said. “This is a health issue and a safety issue.”

Although Dr. McKersie’s February letter to the staff said the decision to reduce the nursing supervisor’s hours “is subject to change according to the final, adopted BET budget in May,” the superintendent stayed firm on the decision at Thursday’s meeting, despite community grievances.

“This was never going to be a simple decision about any one position,” Dr. McKersie said of the district’s new organizational structure.

After reviewing best practices across the country and discussing reduction of the nursing supervisor position with both Ms. Holz and Ms. Mignone, Dr. McKersie said, he assured both women that he would work diligently to truly understand what it would mean to have a part-time coordinator, relative to the concerns raised, and will continue to do so.

Nevertheless, he said, “the decision hasn’t changed.”

 

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