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Meritus Health Inc. likely to provide school health services

Superintendent plans to ask Washington County Board of Education to vote on issue on July 17

July 05, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

Washington County Public Schools officials are working out details for an agreement with Meritus Health Inc. for it to provide school health services when the new school year begins next month, according to school board President Wayne Ridenour.

Meritus Health, the parent corporation of Meritus Medical Center, is advertising for school health employees on its website.

County Health Officer Earl Stoner also sent an email to Washington County Health Department employees on Thursday morning notifying them that the school system is partnering with Meritus to provide school health services, according to a health department’s spokesman and a copy of the email.

“I think it’s moving in that direction. (Schools Superintendent Clayton) Wilcox and our staff are still talking to them and trying to come up with a final agreement so we can move forward,” Ridenour said.

“It’s a matter of some details and things being finalized,” he said.

“We are working on an agreement” with Meritus, Wilcox confirmed.

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Wilcox said he plans to ask the Washington County Board of Education to vote July 17 on either a completed memorandum of understanding with Meritus or to authorize him to continue negotiations with them.

He said the health department declined to provide health services for the new school year, and Meritus Health was the only organization to submit a proposal.

Previously, the health department provided health services during the school year, and it has continued to do so for summer school.

But Stoner said Thursday that the agency didn’t have the staffing needed to provide health services for the coming school year.

After the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted June 5 to cut $3.3 million to the health department for school health services, and layoff notices were issued to more than 70 affected employees, some of those workers have already moved on to other jobs, while the contracts of others ended June 30, Stoner said.

Joseph Ross, president and chief executive officer of Meritus Health, said the corporation submitted what he considered a “good proposal,” and it was up to Wilcox and the school board to decide whether to accept it.

Asked if it was just a matter of school board approval, Ross said: “I don’t take anything for granted in life.

... We’ve put our best proposal in front of them. ... Until we get notified officially, my assumption is we’re still working to convince them we’re the right party to help them with that challenge.”

He said the health system has already posted job openings, and is spreading the word to its employees and those who have previously provided school health services so it can hit the ground running if the school board approves its proposal.

The new school year starts on Aug. 22.

Ross said some health department employees might choose to remain state employees in other positions.

“I can tell you that we are committed to working with the parents and, if we get the contract and have to put new people in the schools, (we’ll) do it in a way they have the time and resources to orient to (the) needs of children in school,” he said.

The commissioners cut school health services funding to free up money to take on the county’s share of teacher pension costs after state lawmakers voted to pass on some pension costs to local jurisdictions.

At that time, school system officials said health services would continue to be provided for students, with the school system paying for them, but Wilcox said he wasn’t wedded to the health department providing those services.

Shortly after the commissioners vote, Stoner issued layoff notices because, as a state agency, the health department must give 60 days’ notice for layoffs, he has said.

Ten contractual, or special pay, employees were not working in summer school and had contracts that expired June 30, health department officials have said.


Keeping some nurses

School system officials are “hopeful” the people who provided school health services through the health department will apply for the jobs through Meritus Health, Ridenour said.

“I think it would be very difficult to get this done without some of them applying,” he said.

The health department employed registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants to provide school health services.

Meritus Health is advertising online — at www.meritushealth.com/employment/hospital.asp — for school registered nurses/cluster leaders, licensed practical nurses and  certified medication technicians.

Wilcox said the number of nurses under the new health services program will probably be in the 60s. The plan will probably involve more registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, with fewer certified nursing assistants, he said.

Every school will be covered, Wilcox said.

“We would like to have a RN or LPN or CNA in every school,” he said.

Meritus’ proposal would offer the same or a higher standard of care, Wilcox said.

The tentative cost for Meritus’ proposal, which would cover only the upcoming school year, would be $2.7 million.

If that ends up being the cost, it would be about $775,000 cheaper than last year’s school health services program because the school system had already planned to take on $175,000 of the program’s costs.

The state’s education and health departments will need to approve any new program for school health services, Stoner said.

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