Overburdened school nurses ask for help

Oct 4, 2019

The School Committee heard from the nurses at the four Wareham schools at Thursday night’s meeting. 

The nurses described a typical day on the job — although there is no typical day — and described the challenges, including extensive clerical work; many routine exams, including BMI, eyesight, and hearing; administering daily and as-needed medications; helping students manage sports injuries; and serving as the first responder for the full building.

Last year, there were 2,126 students in the district. Over the year, the nurses logged 12,358 visits, a figure which doesn’t include kids who run in for a band-aid or other brief visits.

Sheila Braley, the nurse at the Decas School, said that she has had up to 15 students in her office at once (usually at recess). Braley has been a nurse at various elementary schools in Wareham for 26 years, and said she has seen a big increase in the number of students with special health needs. 

Across the district, nurses care for students with diabetes, allergies, seizure disorders, g-tubes (feeding tubes), and catheters, among other conditions. 

Additionally, the nurses are often the first person kids who are anxious or upset come to, due to the relative privacy of the nurse’s office, and the nurses also work with many students with emotional or behavioral issues.

Further adding to the stress of the job is the scarcity of substitute nurses. If a school nurse is planning to be out of town, she is responsible for finding someone to fill in for her, and if one gets sick, the nurses often have to scramble in an attempt to cover two schools at once.

Last year, the nurses built up a list of seven people to call if a substitute was needed. This year, that list has shrunk to one person.

The nurses proposed hiring an additional nurse, either part- or full-time, to serve as a floater between schools. The nurse could help with clerical work and routine exams, help out on particularly busy days, and be a reliable source of help in case one gets sick or goes on vacation.

School Committee Chair Mike Flaherty noted that the committee and school officials will soon begin work on next year’s budget, and would keep their request in mind.