Nurses decry layoffs

After three NHPS nurses were laid off, other nurses voiced their concerns at a hearing Tuesday.
After three NHPS nurses were laid off, other nurses voiced their concerns at a hearing Tuesday. Photo by Alon Harish.

Several school nurses pleaded with aldermen Tuesday night to protect their jobs in the looming school layoffs.

At a public hearing at Wilbur Cross High School, the Finance Committee heard complaints that the city’s recent laying off of three school nurses puts New Haven schoolchildren at risk. Because now only 29 nurses must rotate between 53 schools to cover about 22,000 students, more layoffs would overstretch nurses beyond capacity, the nurses said, forcing poorer quality of care and an increased risk of a medical emergency being mishandled.

“I’m not trying to scare you, but someone is going to get hurt,” said Jennifer Caren, a school nurse at the Barnard Magnet School, who was laid off in February. “Someone could actually die.”

In addition to laying off three nurses from the schools in February, the city also laid off 79 other employees, including 16 police officers. School nurses understand that the city is struggling to balance its budget, but laying off more nurses puts the city’s fiscal burden on the backs of its children, said school nurse Laura Ebatrudo.

There should be one nurse working full-time in every New Haven school, nurse Valerie Paterson told aldermen on the Finance Committee and an audience of about 30 New Havenites. Paterson added that most suburban towns around New Haven have at least one nurse per school.

Continuity of care is impossible without a full-time nurse in each school, Caren said, adding that splitting nurses between three schools fragments care to the city’s most vulnerable children.

A lack of school nurses could also dissuade parents of children with special medical needs from sending their children to New Haven public schools, said Branford resident Theresa Colombo, whose first-grader attends Mauro-Sheridan Magnet School in New Haven. The nurse at Mauro-Sheridan has gone from full-time to part-time, because she has been assigned to work at a school in East Rock three days per week.

“When your kid has a life-threatening food allergy, part-time coverage is not acceptable,” Colombo said. “The needs that school nurses address go far beyond skinned knees.”

Even before the recent layoffs, school nurses were already “above and beyond stretched,” said nurse Tanya Harris, who is also the parent of a New Haven public school student.

“When does it end? That’s my question,” Harris asked the aldermen, who largely kept silent during the nurses’ testimony. “How many jobs? How many lives?”

The Board of Education will likely see between 60 to 70 additional layoffs over the summer, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said last week, but details of which positions will be cut are not yet clear.

After the public hearing, Ward 29 Alderman and Board President Carl Goldfield said the city had little choice when laying off the three nurses in February. “A hell of a lot” more layoffs are on tap if the city is not lucky, Goldfield said.

While he did not disagree with the nurses that they are important for the well-being of New Haven school children, the city is being forced to cut many other essential services as well, Goldfield said.

“We’re really down to the bone now,” he said.

The Finance Committee will meet again tonight and Thursday night to continue reviewing DeStefano’s budget proposals for the next fiscal year.

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