Making a nurse cry can take a long time.
Nurses who work in Baltimore County public schools say they are overwhelmed by the demands COVID-19 now places on them that most students are back in class. They fear that the heavy workload will put the students at risk.
School nurses recently met with leaders of TABCO, the Baltimore County Teachers’ Association, the union that represents them.
Lisa Vanderwal, the nurse at West Towson Elementary School, said: âIt was brutal to hear what some people are going through. There are a lot of nurses who have had it. They just feel like the mental stress just isn’t worth it.
Cindy Sexton, president of TABCO, said nurses who met with the union said they had an impossible workload.
âThe nurses are crying,â Sexton said. âThey are looking for a new job. They just can’t go on the way they did.
According to Baltimore County Public Schools, three nurses have resigned.
Leslie Perry, a nurse at Hereford High School, says her principal calls her the face of COVID at school.
“Not necessarily the face I wanted to have, but it looks like it’s the one I have right now.”
The usual things like headaches, bumps, bruises, and tracking immunization records keep school nurses busy enough. Now they have COVID to deal with, which Perry says includes looking for students who come in close contact with someone who tests positive.
âIf they were on the bus and they weren’t wearing their masks. How far are they seated from other people? How far apart are they sitting in the cafeteria? How long have they been so close to each other? There are so many different times when people come into contact with each other. “
Perry said it was more difficult at the start of the school year when the students didn’t know each other.
âThey were like, ‘well someone wearing a red sweatshirt’,â she said. âSo we had to go back and pull out a videotape and try to look at where people were sitting in the cafeteria. It was crazy.”
They also have to administer COVID tests and handle piles of paperwork, including letters that must be written to parents whose children have come into close contact with someone who tests positive for the disease.
Pamela Kernan is a nurse at Hereford Middle School. It’s her 28th year there and she says it’s the most intense of her career.
âIt’s rare that my treatment room is empty every day,â Kernan said.
When a student complains of something like a stomach ache or a sore throat, they should take more time to assess it. Is this something trivial, or could it be COVID?
âYou don’t want to miss anything,â Kernan said. âYou don’t want to send a potentially COVID positive child back to class. “
Vanderwal, the nurse at West Towson Elementary School, said: âIf you’re pulled in five different directions and you don’t have time to really focus on someone coming up, like abdominal pain, and you’re so overwhelmed that you’re dealing with everything else. What if it’s something like an appendix or something like that? “
Debbie Somerville, the head nurse for Baltimore County Public Schools, said her school nurses are committed to excellence, but for now they have to settle for pretty well.
Somerville said COVID is coming in waves in neighborhoods. Some of his nurses haven’t had a single case of COVID.
âAnd I have other school nurses who have two and three cases a day because their community is going through a wave of COVID right now. “
Last week, there were 230 cases of people testing positive for COVID in schools across the county. This is 10 fewer cases than those reported the week before. Somerville said almost all of these cases were due to transmission in the community, not in the classroom. Nearly 1,200 people were in quarantine last week because they came in close contact with an infected person.
Somerville said they were trying to take the pressure off the nurses by asking other school staff to help them with contact tracing. But this is complicated by staff shortages in schools.
âThe shortage of jobs, the availability of employees, is hitting us in many areas of our buildings, whether it’s teachers or support staff,â Somerville said.