School system increasing medical staff for student safety

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Schools have become much more than just places to learn. They are a social network, an extended family and sometimes, a doctor’s office.

While it was common for school secretaries to act as nurses – and dentists when a loose tooth was detected –  the medical issues of students today have grown to the point that a medical professional is needed full-time.

To meet the needs of the students, superintendent of schools Terrence Beam said the Pocahontas County Board of Education is seeking two LPNs to assist school nurse Jenny Friel.

“Our kids are coming to us with all kinds of emotional and physical issues that – up to this point – we have been unable to provide the assistance that was necessary,” Beam said. “The actual physical condition of the kids is different than it was twenty years ago. We have more diabetic students. We have more kids with major allergies. We have kids with seizure disorders.”

Friel, as the only school nurse, has been serving five schools.

Although Community Care of West Virginia has school-based clinics in all the schools, they are not available every day of the week, which leads to concerns about emergencies and students with chronic illnesses.

“We have to provide better care for our kids, and we are at the point now, through watching our dollars and making better personnel decisions, that we’ve freed up a little bit of money so we can do these kinds of things,” Beam said. “I know we have medical help in our schools with Community Care and Youth Health Services, but having an LPN on staff is important.”

One LPN will be located at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School and the second will be at Marlinton Elementary School. The positions will be posted immediately and Beam hopes to have both filled this school year.

In addition to physical medical concerns, there is also an increase in social and emotional issues, which Beam hopes to also address soon.

“The next step we’re going to take is to employ a social worker for our schools,” Beam said. “A social worker will be able to go into the homes and work with the parents, as well as work with the students at school. We have some qualified people in Pocahontas County that may have an interest in that position, so I think we’ll be able to fill it.”

Beam said the social worker position will be posted for the 2020-2021 school year, but in the meantime, he plans to add another school counselor position, which will provide one full-time counselor per school.

“That’s another step we’re going to take,” he said. “We’re going to expand our counseling services.

At this time, MES and Hillsboro Elementary School share a counselor, and it is difficult for the schools to meet the needs of their students with part-time services.

Beam said he hopes the additions will help students cope with the emotional and physical issues they face each day.

“Sometimes we focus a lot on the academics and the athletics in our school systems, but we really need to look at the physical and the mental condition of our kids, because it is difficult,” he said. “We expect them to come in and sit in their little rows with a smile on their faces, and do the best they can, when they’re coming to us with all these issues. We need to address the issues so they can be more successful students.

“I think that will help their attendance; it will help their behavior; it will help their learning; it will help everything and make the climates better in our schools,” he continued. “It will take some of the stress off of our employees and off our parents who worry about medical care for their children.”

At a previous board meeting, Beam said he was waiting to see if the Secure Rural Schools funding was approved before he made the decision to post the LPN positions.

He explained that while the SRS funding is not going to be used for salaries, it can be used to alleviate some stress on the budget, freeing up funds for the positions.

“The SRS money is really, really important, but I think I can be comfortable in saying that these positions – the LPNs, the social worker and the extended counseling services – are not dependent on the SRS money,” Beam said. “I think the SRS money has its place, and the board has some ideas on how they want to use that. Again, it’s only two years, so it’s hard to attach two years of funding to permanent positions, so we need to be able to handle the cost of the permanent positions regardless of whether we get the SRS money.”

The West Virginia Department of Education has also provided some funding for a social worker position, which has helped pave the way for Beam’s plans, which cannot come to fruition fast enough in his opinion.

“Medical needs won’t wait, and you can’t predict when they’re going to get worse,” he said. “You never know when the next student is going to come in with major medical issues.

“We can’t hesitate on this.”

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