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Oklahoma Schools Struggle With Nursing Shortage

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TULSA, Oklahoma -

As lawmakers start a new legislative session, school nurses hope elected leaders come up with a prescription to fix education problems.

News On 6 informed you about the ongoing teacher shortage, and now we've learned there's also a school nurse shortage.

Most people probably don't know school nurses make the same as teachers.

The starting pay here in Oklahoma is $31,500.

And that's difficult to swallow when qualified candidates know they can make a lot more at a doctor's office or hospital.

School nurses like Elizabeth Vaughn at Hale High School are slammed this flu season. She sent home more than 30 kids last week alone. But that's just one virus in a slew of medical problems.

"We also have homeless kids,” she said. “Kids who are surfing from couch to couch. Sometimes we're the only clinician of any kind that they see medically."

The president of the school nurse organization of Oklahoma says there's a statewide nurse shortage.

"We used to have over 200 nurses,” said Vaughan. “Now, that has dwindled down to 87 nurses. Less districts are hiring nurses when they lose a nurse or a nurse retires."

That's because of money.

"It comes down to having a teacher or having a school nurse, and if you're in a small district, you cover the classes versus the clinic,” Vaughan explained.

Vaughan says for Tulsa Public Schools, there's a health assistant at every elementary and middle school and a registered nurse at every high school.

Vaughan has spent money out of her own pocket on some supplies, over $250.

"I do it because I love this job,” she said. “I love these kids."

Oklahoma City Schools have traveling nurses who visit every school. 
The School Nurse Organization says if a plan passes at the Capitol that adequately funds education, hopefully, more districts will bring back nursing positions.

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