New law expands duties of one-time Partnership nurses

A new Mississippi law expands the duties

of 51 school nurses, who were once paid for through the now-defunct

Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi.

The law also placed all school nurses under the Mississippi

Department of Education, rather than the Department of Health.

The Partnership went out of business this year. Its operations

had been curtailed after a chancery judge ruled the $20 million

diverted to its anti-smoking programs from the tobacco settlement

money was illegal. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the ruling

in June.

The new job duties for the nurses include identifying safety and

health concerns that can be fixed in schools, supporting healthy

food services programs and helping introduce students to health


"I don't really know if that's more duties, but it's more

function," said Lea Ann McElroy, director of the bureau of health

services at the Mississippi Department of Education.

"I think you'll see better comprehensive health care for the

kids," said Celia Roberts, school nurse for Lafayette Middle

School in Oxford.

In addition to the 51 state-funded "tobacco nurses," there are

an estimated 340-350 more nurses who are funded with federal or

local money. That means their responsibilities vary, too. Another

part of the law aims to develop more uniform job criteria for

school nurses.

Donna Hill, the school nurse for Coffeeville Elementary/High

School, said she and the other state-funded school nurses have

probably all done more than just prevention education. She's

looking forward to finding out more from a training session by the

Education Department on Aug. 1.

"We're just hoping that change is good," Hill said.

During the 2007 regular legislative session, the department

requested $7.5 million to fund the 51 existing state nurses plus

100 more. Legislators allocated $2.55 million - only enough to pay

the current 51 nurses. McElroy said the department most likely will

ask for $7.5 million again in 2008, trying to get enough money to

fund more nurses.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,