TUCSON, Ariz .— As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, school nurses are being stretched thin. Several districts say it is difficult to try to hire more staff.
Linda Mendonca, president of the National Association of School Nurses, says the shortage has always been a problem, but the pandemic is making things worse.
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“This is our third school year, we’re dealing with this pandemic, and [nurses] are tired, they have been working around the clock, ”she says.
Like many other professions in the last few months, schools are now seeing nurses retire early or change careers.
“We are definitely seeing the shortage,” Mendonca said. “Our country as a whole is concerned that almost half of our primary schools do not have a full-time school nurse.”
Some school districts are now forced to divide nurses between campuses, while others work overtime to cope with the extra workload that now comes with keeping our children safe.
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Health Services Coordinator Sarah Rawdin is one of 10 registered nurses attending 21 schools in the Sunnyside Unified School District of Tucson, Arizona. She tells Fox News that she visits about two to three schools a day on average. On busy days, it can be up to six.
Pandemic aside, the CDC recommends that schools have a full-time nurse for every 750 students. It is currently estimated that about a quarter of schools do not have a nurse at all.
“The work does not stop and then we continue to work,” Rawdin said. “There’s just so much extra work with COVID, it’s not uncommon for me to see emails come about COVID cases late in the evening, and I know my staff has been sad, they have not gone home on time. because of the workload, and just trying to get everything done and keep everyone safe. “
School nurses play multiple roles and help students with everything from minor cuts and bruises, to chronic conditions and working with mental situations. With the pandemic, they are now also tracking and testing children for COVID-19.
It can be very time consuming for school nurses as they have to inform other students, parents and staff as well as the city, county or state if a student gets a positive result.
“We are currently doing pool tests, as we do once a week, regardless of what the students’ parents agreed to and nurses handing over the supplies,” said Crystal Alvarez, senior nurse with Nogales Unified School District. “The students swipe themselves, and then it is sent to the lab, and if one of the PCR tests ends up being positive, then we screen these students again with a quick test.”
Nogales Unified School District leverages outside help by working closely with community health leaders to offer telesealth visits to physicians and COVID-19 tests.
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“It has been busier than previous school years when there was no pandemic,” Alvarez said. “Now with a mild cold or sore throat or the like, they need to be sent to the nurse’s office.”
She continued: “It’s a little more work than before, but it’s better, and that’s how we’re been able to keep our students safe.”