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Nurses protest District plans to privatize school health services

Photo: Dale Mezzacappa

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

Umbrellas in hand, more than 50 people demonstrated outside School District headquarters Thursday against District plans to outsource school-based health services, a move that could further reduce the ranks of unionized school nurses.

Several speakers said that the proposal was nothing more than a union-busting move that would line the pockets of private health-care providers on the backs of children.

"We don’t need clinics in schools," said Eileen DiFranco, a school nurse for more than 25 years who is now at Roxborough High. What students do need, she said, are the routine screenings, care for everyday ailments and minor injuries, and relationships formed with a school nurse.

Many neighborhoods, she said, are "inundated" with health-care options, including clinics now opening in drugstores, she said. Efforts to open clinics in schools before have not worked, she said.

In a "request for proposals" issued earlier this month, the District said it was seeking "bold and innovative" ideas for bringing more health services into schools for a largely low-income population of students who have many health challenges, including asthma and obesity. The District said that providers could get reimbursed from government and private insurers for some of the services they provide to students in schools, making it worth their while. The kind of screening services and attention provided by nurses are not generally reimbursible.

The District has reduced the school nurse workforce by about 100, down to 183 people, who serve several hundred District and private schools at a cost of about $23 million. Few schools now have a full-time nurse.

"This is one issue we must stand up and fight for," Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan told the group.

"The way to give better health care to kids is to restore 100 nurses. Parents need to know who their children are seeing. They don’t need someone coming in and making money on the backs of poor children."

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