School nurses adjust to changing roles, challenging times
Being on the frontlines during a pandemic has changed the day-to-day responsibilities of school nurses in many ways. In their responses to emailed questions from the Sun, the nurses in Woodford County Public Schools shared some of their experiences and thoughts, and discussed challenges they’re facing. While it remains a school nurse’s responsibility to care for the health and wellness of every person in the building, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way they treat and manage a sick student’s symptoms, said Woodford County Middle School nurse Robin Reed. Because many COVID-19 symptoms are the same as other illnesses, every case must be treated as if a child has the coronavirus, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said. He said a school nurse must wear personal protective equipment (PPE), move the child into an isolation room and contact his or her parent. “Our COVID protocol requires we send home many more students each day,” said Simmons Elementary School nurse Hope Woodcock. “Normally, cough and congestion are not a ticket home. From how we assess students to where we hold them for illness (isolation rooms), the process is different …” A decision-tree directs school nurses to send students home if they have any COVID symptoms. So even when Southside school nurse Jennie Christopher is familiar with a student who has experienced symptoms from an allergy in the past, now she’s required to send that child home until he or she is symptom-free for 48 hours, she explained. “Unfortunately, times right now are uncertain, and it is our main priority to keep all students and staff safe,” Christopher said. “The importance of following these guidelines (is) crucial to stopping the spread (of the virus). It is just hard when you have such a good relationship with these families and you consistently feel their stress …” Nurses, particularly those who’ve been at a school for awhile, know and have good relationships with kids, Hawkins said. “And I think that can help ease a student’s mind if they are sick and not feeling well,” he said. Woodcock said she and the district’s other school nurses provide comfort and counsel to students and staff every year. They always answer questions, but the volume has increased this year with concerns about COVID and the vaccine. “We worry,” said Woodcock. “…we love and think about our kids ...” She said nurses worry if their kids are hungry, safe and loved when they’re not in school. So, “when we are in-person,” she said, “the kids receive extra doses of love and happiness from many staff members, including the school nurse. There is an urgency to the time we have together.” Hawkins said the school nurses have been invaluable to the reopening and keeping schools open for in-person learning. “They’ve been great,” said Hawkins. He lauded district Health Coordinator Kelly Simpson for doing “an incredible job” – not only working with the nurses, but also ordering needed PPE. Simpson walked every school building with the Woodford County Public Health Director Cassie Prather to determine the location for protective barriers and isolation rooms as well as the logistics of eating meals in the cafeterias, Hawkins said. Among the safety guidelines being followed, with support provided by the school nurses, are temperature checks, hand sanitizing, and handing out masks as needed and assessing students upon arrival. Huntertown Elementary School nurse Erin Gordon said she and other nurses are double-masked if a student exhibits any signs or symptoms of an illness. One change that really saddens her, she lamented, “I cannot give hugs this year when needed.” The district has employed a nurse for every school, except Safe Harbor Academy, before the 2015-16 school year. “I don’t know how you can do this without having one in every building,” Hawkins said. (Woodcock is assigned to Simmons and Safe Harbor Academy.) “The school nurses and I attend webinars and are constantly researching the most up-to-date information about the virus, vaccines, and safety measures,” said Simpson, a registered nurse. This enables us to effectively answer staff questions,” She and the school district’s six other nurses received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 22, she said.