School Nurses Battle Shortages, Extra Pandemic Duties

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School Nurses Battle Shortages, Extra Pandemic Duties
School nurses, already in short supply, now have to assess student symptoms, help reopen classrooms, comfort kids stressed by pandemic.
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The U.S. already had a shortage of school nurses. About 35% of schools have part-time nurses, and roughly a quarter of schools don’t have a school nurse at all. And then the pandemic hit.

“It’s not if, it’s when, so we’re expecting at some point there will be a COVID positive,” said Sherrie Mahan, an RN in Florida. 

As the new school year continues, nurses’ responsibilities are growing to include COVID-related tasks like assessing kids showing symptoms, helping figure out how to reopen classrooms safely, and educating families. This on top of what they say is the new task of dealing with the emotional and mental health challenges of students stressed out by the coronavirus.

“Every day you go home and you think, okay, what's tomorrow gonna bring,” said Liz Pray, a school nurse and president of the School Nurse Organization of Washington. 

Pray is a school nurse in Washington State in a district where eight nurses keep tabs on roughly 8,500 students. After careful planning and securing enough PPE, they recently welcomed students back in-person. While she applauds her district for including her as they crafted reopening plans, she admits it may not be like that everywhere. 

“School nurses, we've talked to them, they're burnt out, and some of them are scared," she said. 

The nation’s largest school district recognized a need for more nurses amid the pandemic, working to add a reported 379 additional school nurses before classes began in New York City in September. 

And national school nurse organizations joined with other education groups to ask Congress for additional funding for personnel, PPE, and facility resources for schools. 

Amy Morona, Newsy, Washington.