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District invites proposals to outsource health services

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District is inviting outside proposals with “bold and innovative ideas” for student health services, a move that could result in the reduction of unionized school nurses, whose ranks have been decimated over the last several years due to budget cuts.

Superintendent William Hite and Chief of Student Support Services Karyn Lynch said at a briefing in May that their goal is to provide more school-based health services for students while not increasing cost.

They said the District is open to all kinds of possibilities – from full-fledged school-based clinics to privatized, lower-cost nurses – and is interested in proposals that would cover one school, many schools, or the entire District.

Hite described the request for proposals (RFP) as “starting an exploratory process intended to increase the availability, utilization, and breadth of high-quality student health services.”

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which represents the nurses, saw it differently. He issued a statement calling the move “shortsighted” and “an insult” to nurses working under trying conditions. He blasted the District for “using a budget crisis as an excuse to shirk their responsibility to provide basic services to Philadelphia’s students.”

The union will pursue “every option available” to stop privatization, he said.

School nurses provide health screenings, dispense medication, treat minor illnesses and injuries, get to know students, and keep track of their medical needs. They are not equipped to do comprehensive exams or provide follow-up treatment.

Currently, the District spends $24 million on 183 school nurses, most of whom split their time among more than one school. They serve 218 District schools and 95 private and parochial schools in the city.

Just 90 schools have a full-time nurse; a handful that enroll students with multiple disabilities have more than one nurse.

Neither Hite nor Lynch could say how this initiative would affect school nurses. It will depend on what kind of proposals come in, they said.

“What we’re trying to do is offer more,” Lynch said. “We left a good deal of flexibility to see what will be in the best interest of the students.”

The RFP says that the District’s intent “is to provide high-quality, cost-effective, and reliable health services to students in all District schools and programs.”

Jordan, however, said that “the school nurse is the only medical professional many children see for health care. … They should … be hiring more nurses to serve our children.”

The District is asking for responses to the RFP by June 10 and hopes to begin implementation in September.

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