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Superintendent, nurses discuss conditions

By Greg Gelpi

Boxes of medical waste collect in school nurses' offices, and nurses don't have access to running water in some schools.

Airing a number of complaints, Clayton County school nurses met with Superintendent Barbara Pulliam Wednesday to address problems which have persisted for a number of years.

"The mystery is that this has been going on for all these years and I get to fix it," Pulliam said, explaining that she is working on "system" change, rather than changes at each school. "So, we're in the process of turning around the Queen Mary if you can visualize that and I'm not sure we've made it five degrees yet."

She worked from a list of 24 questions submitted by the nurses, including concerns about there not being a procedure in place to handle medical waste, such as used bandages and needles. Nurses fill their biomedical waste containers and then dump them in the regular trash.

"We are violating so many regulations it's not even funny," one school nurse said. "I think if the taxpayers knew what was going on they would be shocked...A drug dealer would have a field day in our trash because we just throw away syringes."

Sabra Priester, the state director of the Georgia Association of School Nurses, said "Oh my goodness" when she heard of the biomedical waste.

Pulliam responded to the complaint, saying that resolving situations such as this isn't "negotiable."

"If it's a requirement for nurses, then it's something they've got to have," she said.

Pulliam explained that staff must work to change the "culture" of the school system and school nurses must meet and establish "standards of operation."

Some nurses complained of not having access to running water.

"You cannot give safe care if you don't even have a sink to wash hands," Priester said. "That is primary to preventing the spread of infection."

Priester said that the Georgia Association of School Nurses has been advocating for and working with the state Department of Education to establish uniform standards of school nursing care.

Clayton school nurses also complained of low pay and having not received pay raises in four years.

A compensation study is being conducted, which will show how school nurse pay compares with other school systems and with other staff, Pulliam said. Also, some budget proposals call for a system-wide 2 percent pay raise.

Priester said, speaking off the top of her head, that an average LPN in Georgia schools makes about $10,000 to $20,000 and an average RN makes about $12,000 to $65,000.

The starting pay for an LPN in Clayton County is $18,545.76. School nurses work 6 1/2 hours for 190 days a year.

Other concerns raised by the school nurses were supplies, duty-free lunches, computers, respect and regular meetings of the nurses.

Pulliam said that she meets with staff members all the time, but chose to open the meeting up to the media after a request by the News Daily because she has nothing to hide.

Although nurses overwhelming said that they were pleased with the results during the meeting, nurses pointed out afterward that some issues were never addressed.