CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- FamilyCare CEO Martha Carter was stunned to hear Tuesday that, tucked inside 141 pages of recommendations in the state school system's efficiency audit, the consultants who wrote it are urging the Legislature to require school-based health centers to take on the duties of school nurses "free of charge."
"That's just plain impossible," she said. "I don't know of any school-based health program that makes money. Ours sure don't."
School nurses are now school system employees. If the health system would assume their duties free of charge, the consultants say, the school system would save $9 million.
"We lose money on our school-based health services," Carter said. In Kanawha County, FamilyCare, a federally qualified health center, runs the school-based health center inside the Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School.
"There's no way we could add another salary," Carter said. "This makes no sense."
Today, the state school board is issuing their reaction to the recommendations in that efficiency report, generated by Pennsylvania-based Public Works LLC.
Amber Crist, education director of Cabin Creek Health Systems, which runs four school-based centers in Kanawha County, echoed Carter.
"The problem is that there aren't enough school nurses," she said. "This recommendation does not help with that. It just shifts the cost to the health system. I don't know about the rest of the report, but this recommendation isn't going to solve anything."
Specifically, the audit recommends that legislators pass a law forcing school-based health centers to "perform the duties of a school nurse, free of charge, as payment for the use of school facilities.
"These centers do not pay rent or utilities for the school building space they occupy," the consultants wrote.
"Actually some do pay rent and utilities," Kelli Caseman, director of the West Virginia School-Based Health Assembly, said. The contracts are locally negotiated, she said, so they vary from school to school.
"Our board was stunned when they read that," Caseman said. "Clearly, the auditors didn't understand the magnitude of medical services school-based centers provide for schools and children. It read as if the centers were doing nothing for the schools."
The centers provide more than 100,000 medical treatments for children a year, she said. The consultants did not visit any centers, "to our knowledge."Nurses, health centers not interchangeable
Janet Allio may make it easier to get a grip on the difference between school nurses and school-based health centers.
Three days a week, Allio is the school nurse at Mary Snow Elementary on Charleston's West Side. Two days a week, she nurses at Piedmont Elementary on the East End.
The school system says neither school can afford a full-time nurse.