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G-C eyes changes in medication policy

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GREENFIELD — The handling of student medications, including which ones schools will agree to store and their methods for dispensing them, is up for discussion at Monday’s Greenfield-Central School Board meeting.

Corporation nurse Dawn Hansen is expected to present the board with a variety of proposed security changes, including limiting the amount of medication allowed per student; installing security cameras; and requiring parents to bring in medications personally instead of sending them to school with their children, Superintendent Dr. Linda Gellert said.

The discussion comes on the heels of an investigation into missing medications at J.B. Stephens Elementary School.

A parent contacted police in September after the school called to tell her that her son, a first-grader, was short on pills used to treat his attention-deficit disorder. The woman said she went to police because her son’s doctor required a police report in order to refill the prescription early.

The school had not yet contacted police officers about the missing medication; school officials said they were in the process of conducting an internal audit to determine what had happened.

Greenfield police detectives launched a three-month investigation of a health assistant at the school who was in charge of dispensing medications. Ultimately, no charges were filed.

Keys to a cabinet containing medications were left in an unlocked drawer in the clinic, which multiple people had access to, making it impossible to determine who was responsible for the shortage of meds, police said.

School officials fired the health assistant in question and declared they would review policies and procedures for dispensing student medications.

Part of that process involved meeting with police, who were critical of the time lapse between when the medication went missing and when it was reported.

The conversation was a positive one, Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said, and school administrators now have a better idea of how to help detectives do their jobs should a similar situation arise.

“I don’t necessarily want to know if they’re missing 5 Tylenol,” Jester said. “If some kid has to take Vicodin for pain, and they come up missing some, that’s ones we need to know about.”

Jester said school officials now better understand the immediacy of reporting missing medications.

“As the time ticks by, your valuable evidence could be gone,” he said. “If there’s just a documentation error, it’s going to be easier to detect it’s a documentation error closer to the time the stuff comes up missing.”

One of the suggestions police gave – adding surveillance cameras to monitor who gets medication out of the clinic and when – will be presented at the board meeting, Gellert said.

“We have to be careful that we’re not imposing on confidentiality, … but we can certainly survey that cabinet so if there’s a question about who was in that office area, … there would be some video to support that,” she said.

Across the county, school officials are responsible for dispensing thousands of medications, both over-the-counter and prescription-strength.

Each corporation employs a registered nurse, but in the majority of cases a health assistant is the one who dispenses medications.

School officials say writing down who receives what medications and when is critical to making sure all drugs are accounted for. That information is used during an internal audit if any medication is short.

“Documentation is very important, and we do a lot of it,” said Southern Hancock School Corp. nurse Jeanette Pineda. “If there is a problem, I am contacted and go to the building to help figure things out.”

Eastern Hancock school Nurse Pam Matthews said she personally goes through the medications at least once per month to check expiration dates and take inventory.

“Knock on wood – I haven’t had anything go missing yet, but if anything did, I would contact the principal, contact the parents to make sure they didn’t sign it out, talk to the staff and start my investigation,” she said.

At Mt. Vernon schools, students’ medications, whether they’re over-the-counter or prescription, are always counted and catalogued, Nurse Michelle Shaw said.

A student may possess and self-administer medication for a chronic condition only if the student’s parent or guardian has filed a special form with the school, Shaw said.

Requests for students to be given medications at school during the day must be renewed annually, in writing, or whenever there is a change in the medications, she said.

Pineda said schools do put themselves at risk by handling students’ medications, but they must meet student needs.

“…It is necessary for our students to be able to function at their best while in school, so medication is necessary,” she said.

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