The Burbank Unified school board offered few assurances to the district’s head nurse Lenora Aguilera last week when she asked school officials to consider hiring three more certificated school nurses to add to the six that currently serve 15,200 students.
Along with Aguilera voicing her concerns about more nursing staff, Bret Harte Elementary Principal Sheari Taylor described a recent Friday in which she stepped into her school’s office and saw several students lined up sitting on a bench.
One student with a migraine was seeing flashes of light. A diabetic student needed to have their blood sugar monitored. And another student had just vomited into a trash can, Taylor said.
Meanwhile, the nurse assigned to Bret Harte was helping students at another Burbank school.
“Right then, I know that all heck has broken loose,” Taylor said.
Then, Taylor received word over her radio that another student, after falling on the playground, suffered a leg injury. That’s when Taylor rushed to the playground with a wheelchair, only to return to the office to hear a second-grader tell her, ‘My heart hurts. I can’t breathe,’ Taylor recalled. In the end, though, the student’s ailment wasn’t serious.
“I was doing exactly what I always do and what all the other principals do and office staff do. We just roll with it, but it is like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’…it is major triage time,” she said.
Aguilera also shared with the board that more than 1,625 Burbank students have asthma, 144 deal with seizures, nearly 470 have allergies and more than 760 are on various medications. Another 112 students require EpiPens.
Also, nearly 40 students have Type 1 diabetes and 1,610 have other health issues which may involve them recovering from cancer treatments or other ailments, Aguilera said.
She and five other school nurses divide their time among Burbank’s 20 campuses.
“I would like to pose a question,” she said to the school board. “What will it take to have additional school nurses added for the benefit for our students? How much liability is the district willing to assume and at what cost? We have brought our concerns, and again I ask that you make the right decision to hire additional credentialed school nurses.”
She added that she doesn’t think the school district is meeting the students’ needs. “I just cannot stress that enough,” she said.
School board member Larry Applebaum said he could support hiring one additional nurse, saying it “should be a no-brainer because we have the funding for that.”
It would cost an estimated $80,000 to hire one certificated school nurse, according to a district document.
Burbank Unified Supt. Jan Britz suggested the district add licensed vocational nurses, which would cost less than registered nurses, but the scope of what they are permitted to do in a health setting is greater than that of a health assistant, who typically can only offer first aid and CPR.
“We could keep our six RNS and then bring in LVNs…we could do a balance there…and still fill that need, but maybe not with RNs,” Britz said.
Aguilera said licensed vocational nurses wouldn’t be able to manage students’ health cases like registered nurses could. She also reiterated that certificated registered nurses would be best, given that they come with more education than licensed vocational nurses.
“A lot of the things that we need help doing, they cannot do those things,” Aguilera said of licensed vocational nurses. “We need skilled individuals that can do those things. Unless you walk in our shoes, you don’t understand how difficult it is to case-manage these children. I don’t know how else to explain it,” she said.
“When we talk about the health and welfare of our children…I feel like I’m begging,” she added later. “Parents seem to understand.”
School board member Charlene Tabet said she thinks school officials understand what Aguilera is requesting.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of understanding. I think we see a need,” she said. “It’s — how do we pay for it?” .
The school district has made $100 million in cuts in recent years due to devastating state education cuts. Now, with an expected increase in state revenue, there are many requests across the district to restore personnel in various departments as the district plots a slow financial recovery.
“It’s a fiscal matter,” said School Board President Dave Kemp, who thanked Aguilera for sharing her thoughts with the board.
“It’s one of those tasks we have to take on and see if we can solve it,” he said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.