Schools may lose county medical programs

Students at Marion County public schools may not be getting ear and eye exams next school year.

The nurse who previously administered the services across the county resigned and the districts have had trouble filling the vacancy.

If the position isn’t filled, the services will come to an end.

Four area superintendents—representing Goessel, Hillsboro, Marion and Peabody-Burns—along with Diedre Serene of the county’s health department, addressed the Marion County commissioners about the issue Monday.

Serene said the salary offered by the county isn’t enough to attract workers to the county health department, which administers the vision and hearing exams in schools across the county.

“It’s really hard to find a nurse to work for the salary we offer,” Serene said.

The pay, she said, falls close to $10 per hour behind the average pay for nurses.

As per state regulations, a registered nurse is required administer the hearing exams. Vision exams can be given by “a layperson, with some training,” Serene said.

Students in Marion County schools receive the exams each school year from kindergarten through third grade. After that, the students receive them every other year.

Commissioner Kent Becker said it can be difficult to convince registered nurses to take a pay cut to work for the public, when there are other, higher-paying opportunities available to them.

“With the opportunities that nurses have now, it can be very difficult to fill this position,” Becker said.

The services are paid for mostly by the school districts, through the Special Education Co-op, and contracted to the Marion County Health Department.

Each of the county school districts contributes to the co-op, which pays $5,500 to the health department for the services each year. This covers more than 80 percent of the estimated $6,500 annual expenses to provide the service. The rest comes from the county.

The funds and the equipment are available. Serene said the health department re-calibrated its equipment, which was purchased in 2002, and it is ready to go.

Lack of personnel is the only thing jeopardizing the services.

“If we find a nurse, we will do it,” Serene said.

Commission chair Dianne Novak suggested an increase to the nurse’s pay to attract more applicants.

John Fast, superintendent of the Goessel school district, said the Goessel district would be willing to pay more for the “very important service.”

“It’s a service we need,” Fast said.

Ron Traxson, superintendent of the Peabody-Burns school district, added, “Losing the service is more serious than having to pay more for it.”

Fast said the districts and health department will prioritize applicants from within Marion County.

“We hope to find someone within the county,” Fast said. “But if we have to look into another county, well, what can you do?”

Also addressed was the county’s Healthy Start program, which may be coming to an end.

The program provides a variety of health services to families—including free child car seats, bike helmets and life jackets, along with healthcare education. It is aimed to help young families.

“We need to do more to make the county attractive to young families,” Commis­sioner Randy Dallke said.

Superintendents and the commission agreed that each of the services are too important to leave behind.

“Whatever it takes, we don’t want to lose these programs,” Becker said.

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