Washington County Health Department and school officials are to meet Saturday to discuss a decision made earlier this week to lay off 76 school nurses and their assistants, a health department official said Friday.
Health Officer Earl Stoner said officials decided to hold the meeting after the Washington County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed on Tuesday to cut $3.3 million in health department funding that was being used to pay the workers’ salaries and benefits.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to lay people off,” Stoner said during an interview Friday. “It’s not something that we want to do .... My focus and all of our focus should be on those people who lost their jobs and the students of Washington County.”
As of 6:40 p.m. on Friday, Stoner said he and Wilcox had not yet spoken to decide when and where the meeting would be held.
The health department announced Thursday that it would lay off nurses and other health care workers in Washington County Public Schools as a result of the commissioners’ decision.
The commissioners cut the money for the school nurse program to free up more than $3 million the county will have to pay because of new teacher pension costs.
The Maryland General Assembly this year directed counties to start sharing in the pension costs, which the state had been paying entirely. The counties’ share will be phased in over four years.
Stoner said that for the health department to complete its budget by the beginning of the upcoming fiscal year, the layoffs would have to become effective June 30.
As a result, he wasn’t able to give the health care workers the required 60-day layoff notice because the funding cuts weren’t decided until this week.
“It’s not like it was a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “It forced us to make a more immediate decision than we’d like.”
Stoner said the health department might have to make more cuts because it will be required to give the health care workers compensation payments totaling about $550,000.
“That’s money we don’t have,” he said.
State law requires local health departments and school systems to jointly establish a health system within the schools, but it doesn’t specify how the program should be funded.
Stoner said the county commissioners historically have been the funding source until now.
On Tuesday, county Commissioner William McKinley said the county has funded the nurse program for years, but was not required to.
Wilcox could not be reached on his cellphone for comment Friday afternoon.
Staff Writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.