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INDIANAPOLIS – A state-level committee says Indiana needs more school nurses.

The recommendation comes from a report issued by the Governor’s Public Health Commission, which was created last year to help improve health outcomes in the Hoosier State.

According to Joy Sunday, president of the Indiana Association of School Nurses, districts were struggling to hire nurses before the pandemic started. Since COVID-19, it’s gotten more challenging.

“Some of the schools throughout Indiana, you can work at Arby’s and make as much money as you can as a school nurse,” Sunday said.

Sunday, who runs health services at Valparaiso Community Schools, said there aren’t enough school nurses to meet the growing health needs of students.

“The numbers of diabetics that you have, the seizures that you have within those school buildings,” Sunday explained.

Right now, Indiana school districts are required to have at least one registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree on staff. The state’s recommendation is one nurse for every 750 students, but the Governor’s Public Health Commission has found some districts fall short.

One barrier, Sunday said, is many schools can’t afford to pay their nurses a competitive wage compared to other kinds of facilities.

“School nurses… are funded from the general education funds,” explained Dr. Maria Finnell, chief medical officer for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. “So schools are faced with prioritizing and sometimes I think those are competing priorities.”

Indiana is currently facing a shortage of nurses overall. Some school districts partner with health care providers for their nursing staff, but finding substitutes when needed isn’t easy.

“Life happens, right?” said Amanda Martin, health services director for Franklin Community Schools. “Kids get sick, parents need to miss work, we get sick. And so we have found ourselves short-staffed frequently.”

Some advocates say one potential solution is asking the state to pay for school nurses instead of the districts.

“There’s been a survey done in the past couple of years,” said Andrea Tanner, a school nurse researcher with the IUPUI School of Nursing and former president of the Indiana Association of School Nurses. “And a lot was revealed in those surveys regarding the need for greater organizational support for school nurses. School nurses don’t feel supported.”

It would be up to Indiana lawmakers to decide whether to allocate state funding specifically for school nurses. They’ll have discussions about funding for schools early next year when they work on the new state budget.