Ontario nurse shortage keeps some kids home from school
For 12-year-old Quinn Wood, school is a safe place to socialize and learn.
But the Barrie boy has only seen the inside of a classroom nine times since the year started.
"He missed basically a month of school because there were no nurses," explains his father, Charles Wood.
Like many others across the province, Quinn's family has been affected by a shortage of nurses.
Diagnosed with diabetes and level two autism, Quinn requires a nurse to be at his side throughout the school day to test his blood sugar levels up to four times and administer insulin when necessary.
Charles Wood explains that Quinn doesn't exhibit the signs of spiking or dropping blood sugar that some people with diabetes do, and he lacks the self-awareness to flag a problem.
"Part of his beauty is his innocence," Wood says. "He understands that he needs the needle. He doesn't like it, but he understands that he needs it. But at the same time, he doesn't get the danger of it if he doesn't get (insulin)."
Last week, Home and Community Care Support Services, formerly known as the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), wrangled a newly hired nurse to support Quinn through the school year. Quinn is her primary focus, but she is also performing checks on two other students.
"It's a relief, but at the same time, there's a lot of other families out there in the exact same boat," Wood says. "They need a nurse full time, and there aren't any."
In a statement to CTV News, the agency writes:
Home and Community Care Support Services works with our service provider organizations and local school boards to provide in-school nursing to eligible children. We are continuing to work closely with our contracted service providers to secure services for these children.
The President of the Ontario Nurses Association describes a staffing shortage in all corners of the health care system as a crisis.
"We're looking at 18 to 22 percent vacancy rates across the board. So no surprise that exists in the school system," says Vicki McKenna.
While a lack of nurses for students may have been foreseeable, its not something that sits right with McKenna.
"That's not what Ontario is about. That's not what our system is about. I fear that it will get worse rather than better unless there's the attention paid now--focused, intense--and resources have to be put there in order to make this happen."
The Superintendent of Student Achievement(K-6) and Special Education for the Simcoe County District School Board is also uncomfortable with kids missing school because nurses aren't available.
"It's absolutely essential that all students come, but even probably more essential that our students with complex needs come to school," says Chris Samis.
He says the board has been working with families and service agencies to come up with creative solutions.
"That solution may be how do we utilize the parent to be able to provide support...we've actually looked at how to cluster students from multiple schools that have nursing supports together."