"They see us as the enemy": school nurses face the rage of a pandemic

When a high school student in western Oregon tested positive for the coronavirus last month, Sherry McIntyre, a school nurse, quarantine...


When a high school student in western Oregon tested positive for the coronavirus last month, Sherry McIntyre, a school nurse, quarantined two dozen of the student’s football teammates. The players had spent time together in the changing rooms without masks and, according to local guidelines, they could not return to school for at least 10 days.

Some parents took the news badly. They told Ms McIntyre that she should lose her nursing license or accused her of violating their children’s education rights. Another district nurse faced similar anger when she quarantined the volleyball team. This fall, after facing repeated hostility from parents, they began locking their office doors.

“They are calling us and telling us that we are ruining their children’s athletic careers,” Ms. McIntyre said. “They see us as the enemy.”

Throughout the pandemic, schools have been hot spots, the source of heated debates about the threat the virus poses and the best way to fight it. School nurses are on the front line. They play a crucial role in keeping schools open and student safety, but have come under fire for enforcing public health rules they haven’t set and can’t change.

This new academic year has been the most difficult yet, they say. After a year of distance or hybrid learning, schools have generally reopened at full capacity; many did it in the middle of the delta surge and in the middle of an intensifying political battle more “parents’ rightsTo shape what happens in schools.

Although 12-15 year olds were eligible for vaccination adoption since May has been slow; only 48 percent of children in this age group have been fully immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of elementary school students, who became eligible for vaccines just two weeks ago, are still not vaccinated.

Nurses say they’re juggling more Covid cases and quarantines – and more angry parents – than ever. “My name is a firefighter and a dentist because I feel like I’m putting out fires and pulling my teeth out all day,” said Holly Giovi, school nurse in Deer Park, NY.

They are, they say, exhausted and overwhelmed. Some say, for the first time, they hate their jobs, while others quit, exacerbating a shortage of school nurses before the pandemic.

“I loved being a school nurse before Covid,” Ms. McIntyre said. Last month, she resigned.

Even before the pandemic hit, a school nurse’s job went far beyond dealing with playground scrapes.

School nurses manage chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and seizure disorders; perform eye, hearing and scoliosis screenings; ensure students are up to date on vaccinations and physical exams; assist in the development of personalized educational plans for students with disabilities; help students deal with stress and anxiety, and more.

“You do a lot more than dressings and sores,” Ms. Giovi said.

The majority of school nurses in the United States are responsible for covering more than one school, according to a 2018 study. (A quarter of American schools have no paid nurses.) Most earn less than $ 51,000 a year.

“They were understaffed and overworked initially,” said Mayumi Willgerodt, study author and nursing expert at the University of Washington.

School nurses are now too managing isolation rooms for sick students, administering viral tests and recording results, performing contact tracing and tracking quarantine periods, all while trying to reassure worried parents and keeping an eye out for changing guidelines frequently.

“We act as a de facto health service”, said Robin Cogan, a school nurse in Camden, NJ, and clinical coordinator of the school nursing program at the Rutgers School of Nursing, Camden.

Julie Storjohann, a school nurse in Washington state, spends her days switching between many spreadsheets – for students who show symptoms of Covid, students whose family members have tested positive, and students who have been reported as close contact of other students with Covid, all of whom have different quarantine and testing requirements.

“I’m exhausted,” she said. “I was hoping this year would be a little better than last year, but it’s actually worse.”

When a student tests positive, Ms. Storjohann begins a laborious process of contact tracing, which may involve trying to determine who the student is sitting next to at lunch or on the bus. Students have assigned seats on the school bus, she said, but don’t always stay on it, so she reviews video footage from inside the bus.

“And I’m supposed to be able to pick this student and who’s around him,” she said. “And they wear a mask, and they wear a hood and a hat, and that’s impossible.”

And while Covid’s work can seem overwhelming, students still have bloody noses, scratched knees, and head lice. “Or there is a crisis in room 104,” Ms. Giovi said. “Or the kid with nut allergies accidentally ate his friend’s snack, and you read the ingredient list real quickly.” None of this stops.

Some nurses said they fell behind with routine back-to-school tasks, such as eye exams, and no longer had time to provide so much personal attention.

Rosemarie, an East Coast school nurse who requested that her full name not be disclosed, recently noticed a student who was not wearing his hearing aid; he said he had lost it in the building a few days earlier.

“Before Covid, I would have walked with him and tried to find this hearing aid,” she said. But she had a student in the Covid isolation room and couldn’t leave her post.

Erin Maughan, a nursing expert at George Mason University, said many nurses worked nights and weekends without extra pay and felt “moral distress” at not being able to do everything. “At the same time,” she said, “how many hours can you devote to it?

The US bailout, this year’s Covid Relief Bill, provides funds that school districts can use to hire more nurses, but many have struggled to fill open nursing positions even before the pandemic. “There is simply no one to fill the position,” said Linda Mendonca, president of the National Association of School Nurses.

The pandemic has also turned school nurses into unwanted messengers of public health, especially when telling parents their children need to stay home for two weeks.

“Basically they hate you,” said Anne Lebouef, a school nurse in Louisiana, who said she cried several times a week. “They are yelling at you. They accuse you of scaring.

The nurses pointed out that not all parents are hostile and understand why so many parents are frustrated and upset. Ms Lebouef said she had students who missed more school days than they attended due to repeated exposure and quarantines.

“When I have to call this particular mom, my stomach hurts so much and I just want to cry,” she said. “I feel like a terrible person for cheating on these kids about an education.”

Over the past year, Ms. Cogan has led a virtual support group for school nurses across the country. “It’s a safe space for school nurses to share their experiences,” she said, “and to download and say, ‘It’s difficult. I wrote my resignation letter 10 times. I’m about to give it back – can someone help me talk it out, help me get through another day? ‘ “

Other nurses have had enough. “For the same salary we were getting before Covid, having to cope with twice the workload is just too much,” said Ms McIntyre, who will start a new job as an operating room nurse in December.

Vaccinating children under 12 could ease the pressure on some school nurses, especially if it reduces the number of students they have to expel from school. (Students who are fully vaccinated no need to quarantine, say the CDC guidelines.)

But many nurses work in communities where vaccine skepticism is high and relatively few students are expected to be vaccinated.

Expanded vaccine eligibility could also create new demands on their time. Ms Giovi said she anticipated many questions from parents about vaccines, while Ms Cogan said she expected many school nurses to play an active role in “bringing about confidence in immunization and leading efforts for school vaccine compliance. “

It is vital work, she said, but also work that risks winning nurses’ anger even more from parents who oppose injections.

As the pandemic brews, school nurses have made two urgent appeals to parents: to keep their children home when they are sick and – most importantly, they said – to be kind.

“We are doing our best,” Ms. Storjohann said, her voice shaking. She took a moment to pull herself together, then added, “It’s just getting overwhelming.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: "They see us as the enemy": school nurses face the rage of a pandemic
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