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‘Beyond Band-Aids’: Bill Calls for Nurses in Every Public School

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Republican Senator Jen Kiggans proposal to get nurses into every public school building in Virginia passed its first hurdle Wednesday. Lawmakers and advocates say nurses play a crucial role to keep students safe in the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Charles Fishburne/VPM News)

A proposal to get nurses on every public school campus in Virginia passed its first hurdle Wednesday. Lawmakers and advocates say nurses play a crucial role to keep students safe in the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill is being proposed by Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), who is also a nurse practitioner. Proposals to mandate more school nurses have been brought up to the General Assembly before. Currently, the Virginia Department of Education does not require a full-time nurse at every school. 

In the Senate Education and Health Committee meeting on Wednesday, Kiggans said having a nurse in every school is important not just for now but for when the pandemic ends.

“Nurses are good health educators, for things like good nutrition and label reading. And they can help save health care costs if we have a healthier population,” Kiggans said.

Kiggans also said that registered nurses are essential members of a back-to-school team, since students will likely require multiple assessments each day because of COVID-19 concerns. 

Nurses are currently classified as support staff, which limits the legislature's ability to mandate staffing levels. Lawmakers can only mandate staff to student ratios for defined positions; the bill would reclassify nurses in their own unique category. 

The bill would also mandate registered nurses over other types of healthcare workers.

“While LPNs [Licensed Practical Nurses] and Health Aids may collect data for assessments, under Virginia Board of Nurses regulations, only RN’s may make professional nursing assessments,” Kiggans said.

Gina Bellamy, president of the Virginia Association of School Nurses, testified in support of the legislation, saying  that “we are way beyond band-aids and boo-boos” and that schools must have more support to reopen safely.

In a 2018 report from the VASN, the ratio of registered nurses to students in Virginia is 1:9231, or one school nurse for roughly every 9000 students. 

If the legislation passes during the special session, Kiggans estimates about 500 more registered nurses would need to be hired across the state. Part of the bill also allows school districts to opt-out of the requirement, if the costs create an “undue hardship.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.