PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — School Districts nationwide are desperately working to hire school nurses to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 at school campuses.
Pinellas and Hillsborough County hope to have enough nurses to have at least one per school as they begin the 2020-2021 school year.
It comes as Florida and the nation deal with a shortage of RNs and LPNs.
According to the National Association of School Nurses, 25% of schools nationwide do not have a nurse at all, and 35% have a part-time nurse.
Leaders with the NASN Organization say COVID-19 is making an existing nursing shortage worse.
Katherine Burdge works as a Hillsborough County school nurse and is also the President-Elect of the Florida Chapter of the National Association of School Nurses.
“It terrifies me that there would be a school without a nurse for many reasons, but more so now with COVID going on,” Burdge said.
In Hillsborough County, school district leaders say they’re working to hire 32 more nurses. However, the district says each school will start the year with at least one nurse.
The district hopes to hire additional nurses to fill secondary roles at larger schools and they are also working to hire health assistants.
Pinellas County is looking to hire 15 more LPNs, but they plan to rely on staffing agencies to cover any gaps until the roles are filled.
Burdge hopes more nurses will consider working in schools, despite the challenges this year may bring.
“It is one of the most rewarding jobs out there. For me, it’s one of the greatest gifts to see how the children grow and their progression,” she said, with a smile.
Laurie Combe, with the National Association of School Nurses, worries that teachers will have to diagnose COVID-19 symptoms or take time away from education if there aren’t enough nurses in schools.
“School nursing services are essential in helping schools deal with this pandemic. That teacher is going to be taking so much time away from instruction to deal with students saying ‘I have a stomach ache, I feel dizzy, I have a headache’ then trying to figure out if those symptoms align with COVID-19,” she said.
Not every school district in Tampa Bay plans to hire nurses for each school campus. Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk County have committed to having a full-time nurse in each school.
Here’s how our local districts plan to keep kids safe:
Each school will have a full-time nurse, some larger schools will have a second nurse or a health assistant as well. The district will start the school year with a nurse in every school and they hope to hire 32 more people to fill additional roles at larger schools.
Each school will have a dedicated nurse this school year. The district still needs to hire at least 15 more LPNs, but they plan to rely on nurse staffing agencies to fill any gaps until full-time nurses can be hired.
Every school has a licensed practical nurse on campus. The LPN is overseen by a Health Department RN who shares multiple schools. At this time, Polk County has six openings for LPNs. If these positions remain open at the start of the school year, they plan to work with a staffing company to provide substitute nurses and ensure campuses are covered.
The district has a School Health Professional in each school. The district is asking for board approval to add a new position of Manager and Health Specialist to assist. The position requires the individual to have certification as a registered nurse.
The district has two Health Room attendants staffed at every school. Citrus County Schools has 11 nurses that go back and forth between two schools. For example, the nurse may be at one school Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the other school on Tuesday and Thursday.
Across the district, Sarasota Schools has 13 Department of Health (DOH) RNs, 11 District RNs and 14 LPNs in schools. Every school in the district has a Clinic Aide but they do not yet have a nurse in every school. The Board passed the SHINES (School Health is Needed in Every School) proposal in Spring 2019 that states as Clinic Aides resign, retire or move on they are replaced with an LPN. The district has already placed 14 LPNs as a result of this proposal. Most RNs have multiple assignments but are able to provide oversite and nursing services. Larger assignments on the DOH side are due to coverage provided to the charter schools.
School nurses in Pasco rotate between 2-3 schools with full-time clinic assistants in each school as well as LPNs that provide care for medically fragile students at several locations.