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Schools chief says he knew of potential health services cuts only days before

June 12, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Clayton M. Wilcox
Clayton M. Wilcox

HAGERSTOWN — Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Tuesday that he learned that funding for school health services might be cut about two or three days before the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted to eliminate $3.3 million from the county health department program.

Wilcox said he learned County Administrator Greg Murray was to present three options, including cutting health service funds, to the commissioners to free up money to pay the portion of teacher pension costs the state is passing along to local governments starting July 1.

The other two options were to raise the property tax or lower payments to the county employee pension fund. The five commissioners opted for the school health services cuts at their June 5 meeting.

Two days later, the Washington County Health Department began sending layoff notices to all 76 nurses and other health care workers in Washington County Public Schools. The layoffs are effective June 30.

County Health Officer Earl Stoner said last week he had no choice but to send the layoff notices as a result of the commissioners’ vote.

Wilcox said he and Murray had been talking for about a month about their respective budgets, including the school health services program, but he thought that program would be discussed with health department officials during the upcoming fiscal year.

After the county budget came under scrutiny, the school health services cut was made, Wilcox said.

“Our whole budget is dependent on (the county),” Wilcox said of why he and Murray discussed budget issues.

He would have expected the county health officer to have had similar discussions with Murray, Wilcox said.

He had hoped the health department would have provided detailed financial information by Tuesday about the cost of delivering school health services, Wilcox said.

But he learned Stoner was on vacation this week, and it appeared the information wouldn’t be immediately available.

“Apparently, it’s not that urgent for them,” Wilcox said.

Stoner could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A woman who answered the phone in his office confirmed he was on vacation. Two messages left on Stoner’s cellphone were not immediately returned Tuesday.

“We’re concerned with the program, and we’re working on it as best we can,” health department spokesman Rod MacRae said. “We’ve been running this program for a number of years, so this is something we’re taking very seriously.”

Wilcox said he needed the financial information so the school system and health department can work on a “bridge plan” to provide health services for summer school programs starting July 1. Health services are funded through June 30, he has said.

MacRae said the health department had a budget in place for the program it had been operating.

To the best of his knowledge, MacRae said the health department did not know county officials were considering cutting funding for school nurses until the commissioners voted.

A bridge plan for the summer would buy time for discussion about how to provide health services in the new school year, Wilcox said.

“I’m not married to the health department in terms of service delivery,” Wilcox said. “We’re going to talk to others,” about providing the services.

Under state law, the school system must consult with the health department on a plan to provide health services to students, but health agency employees need not provide the services, Wilcox said last week.

The discussion about health services for the new school year will include whether the school system has services that “mirror the 21st century in the way health care services are delivered,” Wilcox said.

“The way nurses are deployed, the way medical services are deployed in hospitals are very different today than they were even 10 years ago. Yet the school health service delivery model has remained basically the same,” he said.

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