Steamboat Springs School District to bring its nursing program in-house

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— The Steamboat Springs School District plans to take over its nursing program from the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association in an effort to strengthen the program and avoid a cost increase next year.

School district officials and the director of the VNA see the move as a positive one.

“We've been talking with them for a long time about this transition,” VNA CEO Lisa Brown said Wednesday. “Having much more integration between the school district's health team and academic team will take out extra layers of bureaucracy ... and make the program that much more efficient and powerful.”

The school district's decision to take control of its nursing program was spurred by the rising cost of its contract with the VNA.

Brown said that for years, the VNA was providing more service to the district than it was recovering in cost, and the program essentially was subsidized.

“For a few years, it was as high as $75,000,” Brown said about the subsidy.

Superintendent Brad Meeks said the cost of the VNA continuing to oversee the district's current nursing program next school year is estimated to increase by 30 percent.

Last school year, the VNA informed the district it was providing more services than the district was paying for. As a result, the contract was increased by about $34,000 this year to $166,000.

Despite the increase in cost, the nursing staff level in the district was reduced slightly to a level that potentially could leave a school without a medical assistant at any given time.

The change caused a group of teachers to tell the Steamboat Springs School Board in November that the cuts put their students at risk.

Superintendent Brad Meeks said Tuesday that he is working to ensure that in addition to the contract change, the nursing program will be set up in a way that there always will be a nurse or a nurse's aide in the schools.

He added having the program run in-house will allow the district to pull together its new health clinic staff, the nurses and athletic trainers to talk about the “big picture of what type of health services do we want to deliver.”

“I think any time the staff is part of the district, it's just easier for communication and knowing the district's policies,” he said. Under the current contract, “you're always kind of balancing district policy with VNA policy.”

He said the district is likely to adopt a model where the nursing staff includes two nurses and two nurse's aides.

He added that the district plans to retain its current nurses who are contracted with the VNA.

“They're a very experienced health staff that have worked in the district,” Meeks said. “It was important that the staff and the parents and the students saw that the program was at least as good if not better than the one we already have.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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