When I look back on my 15 years as one of the school nurses at USM, I can’t help but appreciate the changes that have been made at the school during this time. The nurse clinic work, such as health forms, visit notes, doctor’s orders and parental consent, used to all be done on paper. For around 1,100 students each year, it was often a paper nightmare! It was also difficult to track whatever weekly illness was going around the school. With about 4,600 clinic visits in every school year, it was especially hard because I worked alone most of the time!
We’ve made many changes over the years, including adding two skilled, part-time nurses, an electronic health records system, annual employee training on emergency medication administration and specific medical conditions, as well as a medical response team in each division, just to name a few. We now have student medical, contact, and consent information electronically, close at hand, and can more easily track the spread of illnesses. These changes help us to keep students safe, whether they are on campus or on a school trip. None of these improvements would have happened without the support of all our administrators, teachers, and staff, who always keep student well-being in mind.
Looking ahead to this fall in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it might not be as easy as it has been during past years. As a team, we are looking at a variety of ways to make USM as safe as possible. We are keeping up with federal, state, and local health department guidelines. There are many areas to consider, such as disinfecting the school, circulating more fresh air indoors, creating an isolation room for individuals with potential symptoms, maintaining social distancing while still being together, wearing face coverings, establishing handwashing stations, and eating lunch.
We know for sure that “back to school” this fall will not look like it has in the past, but that is okay. USM takes student health very seriously, and I feel confident that with the plans we have been working hard to develop, children’s health, safety, and emotional development will be at the forefront of our thinking. We are starting from a solid foundation on many levels including great technology, excellent teachers, strong ancillary departments, and a supportive administration.
School nursing can be a lonely job, as it was when I started at USM so long ago. However, there is nothing like a pandemic to realize the amount of team work it takes to implement mitigating changes and realize how much support there is in our community.
Kathleen Roebber is USM’s head school nurse. She has served on the North Shore Health Department’s COVID-19 task force since March.