As nurses we care about our patients and as parents we care about Seattle Public Schools. We have different day-to-day nursing jobs but are united by our knowledge that supporting schools and nursing makes all communities healthier. We all need to do everything we can to keep schools open for in-person learning and hospitals safe and available, and that takes support for student and staff physical and mental health and well-being.
School nursing has always been a nearly impossible task, with a broad range of assignments including vision screenings, immunization tracking, Individual Education Plan assessments, mental-health support and “urgent care” when our students need it. Now we have the dual role of doing our regular nursing plus keeping students and schools safe from COVID-19. From testing to information about isolation periods, our schools have been hastily thrust into the role of public health infrastructure, and nurses are at the front-lines. Many of us are looking forward to getting back to what we want to be doing — seeing the students.
Our kids are so much happier to be back in person, but we’re not out of the woods yet. When schools aren’t able to do their best as public health facilities, the impact comes downstream to our hospitals. We’re seeing sicker patients who need more care, and we’re struggling to meet additional pandemic-related duties. COVID is stretching us thin; if we can better equip schools to play a public health role it can interrupt the flow of COVID patients.
We know that to turn the corner on the pandemic, to keep patients from dying and to make our communities safe, we need schools to stay open while keeping our students safe. And we need our hospitals to have staffing standards to keep patients safe.
If we sound exasperated, it’s because we are.
We need more communication. Nurses are trained to talk with patients in understandable language and to give clear directions. We need that from our schools, too, including instructions on when to come back, how to access testing and on other key topics, and how to be accessible to our multilingual communities. Seattle Public Schools needs to be transparent and effectively communicate with families, staff and the community.
We also need to listen to the front lines. Nurses and educators are burning out, quitting and crying out for help. We need support, respect for our concerns, and responsiveness with solutions. Educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions just as nurses’ working conditions are patients’ healing conditions. When educators and nurses on the front line raise an issue, we must act.
We also urgently need more nurses and mental-health supports. This is not just a Seattle issue but one of statewide importance. Many schools don’t have a full-time nurse, and some Seattle school nurses have to support as many as 1,800 students. Increasing funding for nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists is critical to meeting our students’ needs; state legislators must pass Senate Bill 5595 and House Bill 1664 to fund more supports.
Finally, the best support our community can provide is helping us stop COVID. Get vaccinated, get boosted and get your children vaccinated. Stay home and keep your children home from school when they’re ill.
Our systems were not built to sustain a pandemic, much less for years. We are at a breaking point. It’s time to move from emergency response to building sustainable staffing supports in schools and hospitals so we can function effectively under our new normal of COVID.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.