Jackson County

Future looks grim for nurses at Ocean Springs schools

AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD 
 Medical instruments rest on a counter of the nurse station at Ocean Springs High School on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter said a budget committee has recommended the school district hire on with Singing River Health System, which would mean not renewing contracts for the school district´s six current RNs.
AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD Medical instruments rest on a counter of the nurse station at Ocean Springs High School on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter said a budget committee has recommended the school district hire on with Singing River Health System, which would mean not renewing contracts for the school district´s six current RNs. SUN HERALD

Although a decision to not renew the contracts of Ocean Springs School District registered nurses isn't official, the superintendent has let the healthcare workers know there's a good possibility they won't be employed with the district next year.

Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter said a budget committee recommended the school district hire an outside company to cut down on personnel costs.

The school board is expected to receive a contract from the company at its June 14 board meeting. Possible companies involved with the contract include Singing River Health System and Medical Analysis.

Coleman-Potter said it is likely the board will approve the contract, which would result in not renewing contracts for the school district's six RNs. However, a concrete decision has not yet been made.

Citing education under-funding, school officials are considering how to cut back, she said.

She said she met with the school nurses earlier this week.

"I had a sit down with all the nurses," she said. "I wanted them to know what we are thinking, looking at. I can understand why they might be unhappy.

"We've acted to go forward with the process," she said of the budget committee recommendation. "It's something we're looking at."

She said the district is looking into providing more nurses than the model she first mentioned, which would replace the six RNs with six LPNS and a floating nurse practitioner.

Under the new model, the contracted company would set up a free clinic near Ocean Springs Hospital where school district employees and dependents could receive medical care at no cost, Coleman-Potter said.

The district, as required by the Mississippi Nursing Board, would have to have at least one RN to oversee the LPNs.

"The LPN must have direct RN supervision daily," she said.

While RNs and LPNs are both licensed, RNs are required to possess a "substantial knowledge" of health care over a "basic" one, according to the Mississippi Nursing Board.

The district is spending $361,620 out of the current budget for nursing services. If the district signs on with Singing River, it'll spend $338,116 for the new service and the free clinic, saving $23,504.

Coleman-Potter said Ocean Springs also is looking at other districts for guidance. The district's millage rate is at the maximum cap allowed by law. Enrollment at the high school has gone up from about 1,400 two years ago to 1,800 this year, also increasing expenditures.

Unlike some Coast districts, Ocean Springs can't draw additional revenue from ad valorum tax relief from casinos or other major industry.

Coleman-Potter said keeping the RNs is still a possibility, but the district will have to figure out how to fund them.

"Everyone has an opinion about what should be cut. If we can figure out how to this with the money we have, we'll do that. However, there are a lot of moving parts," she said.

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