- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

Some D.C. public school officials are uncertain about who will get the contract for nursing coverage in the schools after the closure of D.C. General Hospital and the dissolution of the Public Benefits Corp. (PBC).
PBC would have received $7 million this year from the Department of Health under its contract to provide nursing services to District schools. PBC also would receive $927,500 under a memorandum of understanding from the school system to provide additional nursing services to 36 city schools.
The partnership between PBC and the Department of Health, established under the Health and Hospitals Public Benefit Corporation Second Congressional Review Emergency Act of 1996, required PBC to provide 40 hours of nursing coverage at 14 secondary schools. The conditions were established in 1997 when PBC assumed responsibility from the D.C. Department of Health for health services. This is a unique arrangement in this area. In neighboring counties like Montgomery and Fairfax, school nursing coverage is provided directly by the counties departments of health.
Yesterday, Larry Siegel, senior deputy director for medical affairs, said the nursing program for the citys public schools will transfer to Childrens National Medical Center in the next 60 to 90 days.
But some school officials said they are not clear about the situation with the contract and are angry that they have not been consulted about who should get it. School Board member Tommy Wells, District 3, said school and health officials gave him no satisfactory answers on the fate of the nursing program and the contract with PBC.
"This points up to a bigger problem that D.C. government agencies dont talk to each other," Mr. Wells said.
He added that board members have not been asked about the contract, nor told what will happen to it once the PBC is dissolved.
"There is complete lack of coordination between D.C. Public Schools and whoever is in charge of the contract," he said.
He said the school system and primary health care providers need to coordinate monitoring and prevention strategies for students with special needs like asthma.
The Washington Times has learned that officials within the public schools system have voiced concerns about the future of the nursing coverage. "According to information from principals, parents and the Division of Special Education, we do not have adequate health coverage and support systems to serve the increasing number of students with special needs … Therefore we need to affirm with DOH that school nursing services will not be affected if the program is transferred from PBC," said a briefing on school health services that the Office of School Health Programs sent in April to Steven Seleznow, chief of staff at the public schools.
At a public hearing last week before the Committee on Special Education and Student Services, city school and health officials avoided direct replies to questions from school board members about the contract.
"There is no word on how we want our health services to be … whether we want them as part of the school curriculum, whether we want nurses at school all day or not," Mr. Wells said.
He said the school systems nursing services already are inadequate. Full-time nursing coverage of 40 hours per week is provided at 37 elementary schools, seven middle and junior high schools and 14 senior high schools. More than 100 schools receive part-time coverage. Of the 100 nurses assigned to the citys public schools, 63 are full time. The PTA pays for five nurses.
Under District law, a registered nurse has to be assigned to school system for a minimum of 20 hours a week. "The goal should be a nurse for every school all day," Mr. Wells said.
The public schools pay for any additional nursing services required, said Ralph Neal, assistant superintendent, Division of Student and School Support Services.
Asked if he knew who would take over the nursing program from the PBC, Mr. Neal said: "We dont know who they are going to select as a provider." He said he would meet with Department of Health officials to discuss it from now until Friday.


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