By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There is a reported nursing shortage at hospitals and clinics across the state, but what about at schools? Research by the Minnesota Educator Licensing Board shows there are more than 890,000 public school students in the state, but only 637 licensed school nurses.

Jolie Holland is with the School Nurse Organization of Minnesota. She also happens to be the only licensed nurse at Howard Lake Waverly-Winsted Schools.

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“We were having issues with having enough school nurses before COVID. But COVID has really identified a lot more of the stresses that are on the health offices,” she said. “It’s a vector of forces. Schools and school districts only have so much money.”

Part of Holland’s concern is a state law that dates back to 1986 which says there only has to be one licensed nurse per 1,000 students.

“That means if you have 999 students you don’t need a school nurse. But if you have 1,500 students you still only need one licensed nurse,” Holland said.

With COVID and RSV numbers up, and the flu season approaching, Holland and others would like to see that law re-written and for law makers to secure more funding to hire more nurses. She said there is currently no data being collected to show what kind of student health issues nurses and staff may be dealing with. She believes that kind of information could help determine how many school nurses are needed, and where.

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Anoka-Hennepin is the largest school district in the state. They have 88 health services staff at their schools — 33 are school nurses — and they say they’ve been able to provide care to students during the pandemic. But a district spokesman says they are still about six health care workers short of a full staff and are actively recruiting.

With students now back in school, they say more help is needed.

“It’s a whole different ballgame compared to when my mother was a nurse back in the ’70s,” Holland said. “The state thinks they are spending money on nurses, but it’s an investment. We are an investment in the community.”

Holland says that, in some cases, school nurses are the only health care contact students have if their parents don’t have insurance.

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John Lauritsen