Ocean Springs School Board declines contract that would replace school RNs

OCEAN SPRINGS -- In giving what they believed to be their final comments Tuesday night, the school district's registered nurses and concerned parents made a convincing case to retain the RNs. By night's end, the School Board declined to approve a contract that would restructure the school system's health-care staffing, paving the way for the possible renewal of the contracts of its six RNs.

Board members allowed to die without comment a motion to approve a contract with health-care subcontractor Medical Analysis. Medical Analysis' proposal was to replace the district's six RNs with three RNs, three licensed practical nurses and a floating nurse practitioner, a change intended to save the district money.

The decision to go with an outside contract seemed inevitable to some of the nurses who spoke at Tuesday's meeting, including district nurse Dawn Wilson who spoke of her career at Ocean Springs in the past tense.

"It's been a pleasure serving you. I hope you will consider the quality of health care that this school district deserves as you go forward," she said.

RN Lara Jenkins reminded the board that according to the Mississippi Nurse Practice Act, LPNs require the direct supervision of an RN. "LPNs cannot make assessments of students," she said. "If a medical emergency happened, an LPN wouldn't be suited to handle the emergency."

She also pointed out the student-to-nurse ratio difference between the current nursing staff and a contracted one.

"Ocean Springs School District has over 5,000 students and seven campuses. That would mean one RN for every 1,800 students, well below the state average and the recommended ratio of one RN to 750 students," she said. "As a parent, this is a concerning figure; as a health-care professional for over 20 years, it is an alarming liability. If there is no RN on campus to rapidly assess and treat a student injury or acute illness, the outcome can be devastating to the student, their family and the district."

Ocean Springs Student Services Director Grant Dickinson explained the contract the board was considering, reminding those in attendance of Ocean Springs' budget concerns and its lack of a nursing grant this year that had helped pay for the nurses salary the last two years. He also noted the Gulfport, Long Beach, Biloxi and Pass Christian school districts have signed contracts with Medical Analysis.

But for several parents, what those school districts do is beside the point.

"Ocean Springs isn't like other school districts," one parent of a special needs student said. "That's precisely the reason we moved here. I can't imagine any less quality care for my child."

School Board member Wally Carter and the rest of the board seemed moved by the public comments.

"You send to us your most precious resource," he said. "It's our obligation to make sure they get the best possible health care."

Board member William H. Lee went along with the rest of the board but cautioned: "We can expect to see another group come before us. No one wants to see budget cuts in their department, but that's what we are forced to do. So, while I value our decision tonight, I'm just letting you know that we could be dealing with the same issue here soon."

Now the School Board will take the matter of keeping its six full-time RNs under advisement. It is expected to make a final decision on the matter at a June 27 meeting, board member Kacee T. Waters said Wednesday.

"We'll continue to discuss our budgetary concerns to see what we can and cannot do. We'll take a look at other areas to cut. Any decision we make will be public," she said.

The board did approve, in a 4-to-1 vote, a separate contract with Medical Analysis to provide an off-site health and wellness clinic for school district employees and their covered dependents. Waters was the lone vote against that contract.

"I think we just need more information," she said. "We didn't even get to know how much the contract would cost or how it would work with our school district. I think there should have been more questions."