After pushback from parents and nurses who voiced concern over student safety, Seton Healthcare Family announced Wednesday it will pay up to $1.8 million to increase the number of nurses the Austin school district has on its campuses.
The district contracts with Seton for student health services, this year paying $7.1 million, which includes mental health services. Seton this year reduced the number of registered nurses on campuses by nine to 41, but planned to nearly double the number of health assistants to 80. That meant the nurses spent less time on campuses, had less interaction with students and had less direct supervision of the health assistants, which some nurses said could be a liability.
Seton now will add another 33 nurses to Austin’s schools, bringing the total to at least 73. The remaining 58 health assistants already hired will remain in place.
“We’ve heard parents’ concerns and we value their input,” said Kristi Henderson, who leads the AISD student health services program at Seton, along with Medical Director Dr. Mark Shen. “We also know that RNs are a trusted source for parents. We aim to bring in more of these trusted experts into schools so they, along with parents, will help develop a long-term, sustainable plan to help care for Austin’s children.”
Previously, secondary schools had full time nurses but other nurses split their time among multiple elementary campuses. This year, the elementary nurses were charged with covering even more schools remotely, as health assistants were instead assigned to the elementary schools.
The change included a greater reliance on telemedicine, with nurses providing care to some students via videoconferencing software. But the change also meant fewer nurses for the district’s youngest students.
Parents were alarmed by the change, made without formal notification to families, and urged district and Seton officials to reverse it.
By putting more nurses in schools, each large elementary and middle school will have a full-time nurse, while medium-sized elementaries and middle schools will share one nurse and one health assistant. Small schools will have full-time health assistants in each school and a shared nurse.
The Austin district more than 20 years ago eliminated registered nurses at every elementary campus to save money. The district has since contracted with Seton, which decides how to provide those services.
“Austin ISD has trusted Seton to deliver high-quality care for students,” said Edmund Oropez, the district’s chief officer for teaching and learning. “We trust their expertise to do what is best for our students’ health.”
Parent Kelly Tarun, who has fought to bring nurses back to the campuses, said she is grateful for the improvement, but more must be done.
“This stop-gap measure, while it shows they’re listening and are hearing our concerns as parents, is not a long term solution and can’t be sustained,” Tarun said regarding this year’s $1.8 million investment by Seton.
Tarun said many parents, who weren’t around two decades ago when the district made the decision to cut nurses, didn’t know that the health assistants are not licensed medical health professionals.
The district, along with Seton, will create an advisory group to provide input on a long-term health services plan.