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September 12, 2017

Fauquier schools struggling to hire and retain nurses

Photo/Cassandra Brown
Because of a less demanding schedule, Renee Lawless works at P.B. Smith Elementary School near Warrenton after experience in a hospital and doctors’ offices.
Our starting pay for this position has fallen below the market. Therefore, nurses are leaving us for higher paying positions.
— Fauquier Human Resources Director Janelle Downes
Fauquier School Nurses
• Number: 20 full-time; 2 part-time substitutes.

• Pay: $19.12 to $29.42 an hour for RNs.

• Competition: Fauquier Hospital starts RNs at $25.50 an hour with sign-on bonuses up to $7,500.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Facing intense competition, Fauquier public schools have struggled to hire and retain school nurses.

Before the first day of class Aug. 16, four schools had vacancies for nurses and had to bring in retirees to meet the need.

“The recruitment for nurses is extremely competitive,” Fauquier Human Resources Director Janelle Downes said. “Our starting pay for this position has fallen below the market. Therefore, nurses are leaving us for higher paying positions.” 

Fauquier schools pay registered nurses $19.12 to $29.42 an hour, depending on experience.

Eleven percent of Fauquier’s school nurses resigned in 2016-17 — the fourth highest turnover rate behind bus drivers, psychologists and computer service employees.

Report embedded below

“I think (this year) was more atypical. Usually, as we enter into the school year, we are close to fully hired,” Assistant Superintendent Frank Finn said. “There’s a real demand for nurses and, as a function of that, the market shifts.

“Traditionally, when we’ve had issues with retention, it’s about salary,” Mr. Finn said. “I think that’s what we found at the beginning of this school year. The private sector was offering bonuses to go to their setting. I think there were a lot of issues like that that create our retention problems over time.”

Fully staffed, the school system would have 20 full-time registered or licensed practical nurses and two substitutes. Each building has its own nurse, with the exception of Southeastern Alternative School near Midland.

As of this week, the school system has only one nursing vacancy, with an offer to an applicant pending, according to Ms. Downes.

But, Fauquier schools still face major competition from hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care clinics and other school systems offering higher starting pay and sign-on bonuses.

At Fauquier Hospital, registered nurses start at $25.50 per hour. The hospital also offers signing bonuses of $5,000 to $7,500 for full-time nurses and $2,500 to $3,750 for those working part-time.

“Our employees are our best recruiters; they receive a referral bonus for a candidate being hired into a full-time or part-time position,” Fauquier Health Human Resources Director Laura Welsh said.

The hospital has 203 registered nurses, with seven full-time and five part-time positions open.

In the adjacent Fauquier Health Rehab & Nursing Center, registered nurses start at $24 an hour with a $5,000 sign-on bonus for a full-time position.

After working in a hospital and doctor’s offices, Registered Nurse Renee Lawless decided to switch to a school setting.

Ms. Lawless just started her second year at P.B. Smith Elementary School near Warrenton.

She cites the school hours — versus 12-hour hospital shifts — as key to taking care of her two elementary-aged children.

“You’re off on the weekends, holidays; there’s no shift work,” Ms. Lawless said. “It was more of a personal decision, based off my family’s needs.”

She sees 30 to 40 students each day for scrapes and to administer medication.

“People think being a school nurse is about BAND-AIDs and ice packs, but it’s a lot more,” Ms. Lawless said. “We are needed to manage chronic medical conditions. You care for the entire student population.

“I think parents appreciate that there is an RN in the building,” she added.

Mr. Finn has watched school nursing care shift from simple to more complex.

“There used to be a day and age when there was simply a need for a clinic assistant,” Mr. Finn said. “School nursing has really changed, and the expectations have changed drastically in terms of skilled care.

“We have more students enrolled in schools who have more involved and complex medical needs than in years past — seizures, students coming in with tracheal tubes,” Mr. Finn said.

To help retain nurses, Fauquier school system leaders hope to raise the starting pay soon, according to Ms. Downes.

Adopted in March, the school system’s fiscal 2018 budget includes no raises for teachers or other employees, including nurses.

“I know we’ll never be matched up with what other facilities have to offer, but there’s a margin of closeness we have to maintain,” Mr. Finn said.

Employee Turnover Report Fauquier County Public Schools 2016-17 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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