9 Investigates nurse shortages at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

by: Brittney Johnson Updated:

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. - Mecklenburg County is struggling to give students the access they need to school nurses. Parents who fought for more nurses worry the shortage is putting kids at risk. 

Eyewitness News questioned county leaders about the challenges preventing them from giving each school the coverage it needs.

CMS parent Laurie Briggs remembers the terror she felt when her diabetic daughter Madison started school in Charlotte.

"(On the) second day of school I dropped her off, and there really was no one there to take care of her," said Briggs.

That was five years ago when Madison needed help monitoring her blood sugar all day, every day and her school had a nurse just two or three days a week.

She recalls when a staff member tried to help during one incident. 

"She was given triple the amount of insulin she should have had," said Briggs

She said Madison recovered but explained that too much insulin can be deadly.

As a result, Briggs joined other parents pushing the county to place one nurse at each school.

Channel 9 covered their efforts as they fought and won the battle in 2014.

The county committed to putting a nurse on each campus starting in the 2014-2015 school year. But, as of October 2017, they confirmed the county is still short 16 nurses.

Data from the past four years shows the district has been short as many as 53 nurses. 

>

Eyewitness News Anchor Brittney Johnson asked Mecklenburg County health director Gibbie Harris, "Are there situations where kids and their health needs might fall through the cracks?"

"We hope not," Harris responded.

Harris is asking parents to be patient. She said the county is trying but struggling to recruit.

"School nurses do present challenges to us in finding the right kind of people who will be satisfied in these type of situations," said Harris.

She said they're competing with hospitals.

Right now they're doing a study to determine if the county is offering competitive pay.

For now, they use a pool of fill-in nurses and several schools share nurses.

"Of course they're not happy with that, and I understand that," said school nurse Julie Allred.

Allred serves as the nurse for Davidson and Winding Springs Elementary schools and feels they're meeting students needs. 

"You can never replace the nurse actually being there, but we do a lot to educate and equip the staff at the schools of how to handle things when they're not there," said Allred. 

Briggs is worried that is too risky.

"Teachers are not qualified to do all the things they're  forced to do in these situations," she said. 

Today new technology allows her to monitor Madison's health on her phone.

And her school, Community House MiddleSchool has its own nurse every day. But Briggs said she is still worried about the schools that do not.

"It's just going to take one time for a child to not be lucky and not make it and that was the main thing we were trying to stop in the beginning. We didn't want there to be a tragedy," she said. 

The federal standard set by the CDC requires one school nurse for every 750 students. Even if CMS were fully staffed there would still only be one nurse for every 862 students.

The county recently received approval to hire 12 part-time nurses and it's stepping up its recruitment efforts. It's  In the spring it will host the first job fair specifically targeting school nurses.

[PAST COVERAGE: For first time, every CMS school will have full-time nurse]

Eyewitness News asked for the number of students with chronic illnesses year to year and the county provided the following numbers:

  • 2013-14 school year - 10,232 students (51,972 chronic health conditions identified) With the transition to the County reporting system changed to HealthOffice Anywhere
  • 2014-15 - 43,939 students
  • 2015-16 -34,040  students
  • 2016-17 -76,484 students 

Next Up: