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School RNs fight virus in new venues

With schools closed, nurses work at testing sites, hotlines

FRONTLINE STORIES
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Some school nurses, left without work as COVID-19 shuttered their workplaces, have found meaningful roles helping fight the virus.

By Marcia Frellick

Maureen Basler, RN, a school nurse at Winthrop STEM Elementary Magnate School in New London, Conn., started helping with COVID-19 curbside testing in front of nearby Lawrence + Memorial Hospital when her school closed for the year March 13. She said people drive up worried, many of them so sick they can’t get out of the car. Some come with young children — a population she is accustomed to comforting.
Positioned 6 feet from the car window, Basler lets people know how the nasal pharynx testing will work and feel. She tries to calm their fears and those of their families. After the test, patients await the call from a doctor to discuss results.

Basler rotates between roles on a two-person team that includes a testing nurse dressed in full PPE, including a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), and a greeter nurse. The four-hour shifts outside have been tough with temperatures in the 40s. The team tests about 25 people every shift, she said. Basler says the person wearing a PAPR can’t go inside the hospital for four hours and can’t blow her nose when under the respirator. When Basler gets home, she takes off her clothes in the garage, then runs inside to shower to lessen the risk of infecting her family. Basler hadn’t worked in a hospital since 1990. While she says she wouldn’t be effective inside the hospital since she has no experience with electronic records or current protocols, this job was something she could do. She encouraged fellow school nurses to get involved. “As long as you’re not worried about people who are immunocompromised in your house, sometimes it’s good to get outside your comfort zone,” Basler said. She gets to choose how much she works and gets paid accordingly.
Basler said she had fears of being so near the virus at first, but she was motivated by her beliefs. “I’m super Irish,” she said, noting one of the sayings she lives by is the Irish proverb about helping each other, which she quoted: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Working with adults is a nice change, Basler said, but she will be glad for the day when she can resume working at school. “I miss my kiddos," she said. “We couldn’t do much to help in 9/11, but now we can.”

I have never heard so many times from nurses, ‘Thank you for giving us a way to help. That’s what we do.'

— Shelby Rebeck, MSN

Kansas nurses staff COVID hotline

When Johnson County in Kansas set up its COVID-19 help line, leaders worried they didn’t have the staff to manage calls. Shelby Rebeck, MSN, director of nursing for the Shawnee Mission School District, heard about that and let leaders know where to look. “We have the staff,” she said. “We have 150-plus nurses in Johnson County with nothing to do right now.” Rebeck said the hotline also helped fill a need from her end. Schools shut down in the county March 13 for the rest of the school year, and Rebeck had been hearing nurses ask repeatedly how they could help as the COVID crisis deepened.

She worked with the county to set up an electronic sign-up with instructions sent to school nurses in six districts. Slots were quickly filled. Now, about 30 school nurses take shifts answering questions such as. “I’ve been exposed. What should I do?” or “How do I get tested?” Other school nurses are going around to shuttered schools, picking up masks from art departments, epinephrine pens and other medical supplies for redistribution.

About the Author

Marcia Frellick is a freelance writer. She has more than 30 years' experience as a writer and editor working for newspapers, magazines and websites in major markets, most recently the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Medscape Medical News.

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They are also sitting at tables outside their home schools helping service workers by handing out meals curbside to families in need. “I have never heard so many times from nurses, ‘Thank you for giving us a way to help. That’s what we do,’” Rebeck said. For some, participation is mandatory. Not all the efforts to bolster the COVID workforce are as collegial. In some cases, school nurses’ service in COVID care has been mandatory. School nurses in Washington, D.C., for example, were given an ultimatum. Because schools were shut down until at least April 27, the district’s department of health said they must help with local response to the virus or be laid off temporarily, according to documents shared with the Washington City Paper by the District of Columbia Nurses Association. The paper reported that at least 37 school nurses will be temporarily laid off for not complying. Some of the school nurses cited concerns about their risk because of age or underlying conditions. The National Association of School Nurses lists suggestions on how its members can help on its website. Among them is developing a communication system with families while schools are closed. NASN also suggests distributing a list of resources to families with contacts for food pantries and health centers.

Maureen Basler
RN
Shelby Rebeck
MSN
We are consistently amazed at the skill, compassion and dedication of our nurses – and even more so during these challenging times , as they continue to provide the highest quality care to our patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re proud to be one of New Jersey’s premier employers, with a national reputation for excellence. This is a direct result of the extraordinary efforts of our nurses. At the same time, we feel like an extended family: A dynamic team of diverse and passionate nursing professionals with unique skills, deep roots in the communities we serve, and a shared belief that we’re better together. We thank you - and all nurses - for everything you continue to do, every day, to take care of our patients and our communities.

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Thank You, RWJBH Nurses, for Everything You Do – Especially Now.
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