Vote delayed, kids denied

Kia Hinton (right) and others rally outside Gov. Corbett's Philadelphia office to protest inaction on a proposed cigarette tax whose proceeds would benefit Philadelphia schools.

I CALLED Pittsburgh pediatrician Lidia Turzai after the state House of Representatives canceled the vote on a new cigarette tax for Philly.

"The office is now closed," went the recorded message for Dr. Turzai's large Pittsburgh practice. "If this is an emergency, hang up and call 9-1-1."

Hell, yeah, it was an emergency, except the cops wouldn't be of any help. Because it would be illegal for them to knock sense into the heads of Dr. Turzai's husband, state House Majority Leader Michael Turzai, and House Speaker Sam Smith.

On Thursday, Turzai and Smith announced that the Republican-controlled House will not meet next week to vote on the $2-per-pack cigarette-tax bill. Even though they had promised they would.

If passed, the bill would've ensured that Philly's public schools open safely and on time. Now, with the vote postponed until Sept. 15, the Philadelphia School District faces the prospect - for the second year in a row - of laying off more than a thousand employees.

If last September's draconian budget cuts are predictors of this year's, essential employees will again be shown the door.

Including school nurses.

To anyone who isn't drunk, this is a house-on-fire crisis. The kind that ought to speed vacationing House members back to Harrisburg to cast an emergency vote for the safety of children.

But the country's second-highest-paid lawmakers don't care enough about kids to lift their sunburned bellies out of the pool.

As the Inquirer reported last week, "House leaders have heard from several anti-tax members, who were balking at returning from summer break just to vote on legislation calling for a new levy."

But this isn't any old "new levy." It's a new levy that could keep children like Laporshia Massey from dying this year after suffering a medical event at school.

Do you remember Laporshia?She was the sixth-grader whose Philly public school was nurse-less last fall when Laporshia got sick there. The child succumbed later that day from what her father said were complications from asthma - a common condition with early warning signs that any school nurse can detect in the time it takes to say "inhaler."

I called Rep. Turzai to ask whether he and his wife would ever allow their three young sons to attend a school that had no nurse. (I did not call Speaker Smith, whose two children are grown). No one from Turzai's office returned my call. So I tried Dr. Turzai.

Crickets from her, too.

On behalf of Philly parents whose kids' schools will have no nurses, I wanted to ask her:

Who should manage their kids' asthma, insulin injections, food allergies and other chronic conditions? Who would know which bloody knees need Band-Aids and which need stitches? Who should determine which headaches need a kiss and which need an ER visit?

The lunch lady?

I presume Dr. Turzai is a member in good standing of the American Academy of Pediatrics. So she probably knows that the academy is unequivocal about the importance of school nurses.

"The school nurse has a crucial role in the seamless provision of comprehensive health services to children and youth," goes the academy's policy statement. "Increasing numbers of students enter schools with chronic health conditions that require management during the day at school."

School being a place that, "after a child's home, represents the second most influential environment in a child's life."

"There are so many kids with chronic medical conditions that can be well-managed by the school nurse," says Temple University pediatrician Denise Salerno, who is also vice president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For example, she has young patients with hypertension; she relies on school nurses to monitor them. Other kids with asthma require medical attention every four hours. But last year, some of her patients wound up missing school on days when a nurse wasn't available so that their parents could manage the asthma at home.

Not having a school nurse, Salerno says, can "increase the loss of school time for kids, which is not a good thing."

It's repugnant that this is what the school-funding crisis has led us to, again. That we're screaming for help, again, from lawmakers who just don't get it. That warehousing and depriving kids seems just fine, again, to people who'd never allow their own kids to be so terribly betrayed.

It's like we're in an evil version of the movie "Groundhog Day," set in Punxsutawney, Pa., where no one sees that the same maddening events keep repeating.

Maybe that feels normal to House Speaker Smith, a Punxsutawney native.

When he and Turzai postponed the vote, they gave Philly children six more weeks of madness.



Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly