School nurses look to treat all student needs

Robert Houk • Dec 22, 2019 at 4:53 PM

Washington County's school nurses do more than apply bandages to cuts and ice packs to a student’s scraped knee.

Kelly Wagner, the coordinator of the county’s Coordinated School Health program, said her nursing staff strives to remove health-related barriers so teachers can teach and the 8,000 students in the school system can learn. She said the program takes an “holistic approach” to meeting the needs of students.

She said this leads to improved health and better outcomes in the classroom.

“We make sure the needs of students are met so they can focus on their education and classwork,” Wagner said.

There are 14 school nurses in the program, which means there is one for each of the county’s 13 schools. There are also two nursing supervisors on the staff, as well as an assistant program coordinator, who — like Wagner — is also nurse.

Wagner said the school health program  works with state and community partners to see that the needs of students are met in several key areas. They include addressing nutrition, physical education, dental and mental health issues.

“We are all moms,” Wagner said of her staff. “Our job is to love on these kids.”

The school clinics have been busy, with nurses seeing 20,849 visits since the new school year began in August. Of that number, 19,632 students were able to return to the classroom. That’s a return rate of 94%.

Wagner said the Coordinated Health Program is a valuable service for parents who might have a difficult time taking off work to see that their children get their flu shots. Wagner said school clinics delivered 688 flu shots this year. 

School nurses in the program are responsible for educating students on the importance of washing their hands, and the dangers of vaping and tobacco use. Students are also instructed on hydration and are issued drinking water bottles that can be refilled at 17 stations throughout the school system.

The health program offers vision checks that provide students in need with free eyeglasses. School clinics also conduct health screenings for blood pressure, hearing and scoliosis.

“There are students who would not be able to attend school if not for our nurses,” Wagner said, noting her staff assist students in their daily health needs for diabetes and breathing ailments.

Terry Collette, a nursing supervisor in the program, said school nurses also train teachers school staffers on the use EpiPens for allergic reactions, as well as how to administer basic CPR and First Aid.

“The nurses on the school buildings are the hands and feet that make this program work,” Collette said. “And if it weren’t for our community resources, it would be a huge challenge.”

Wagner said the coordinated program works with United Way of Washington County, community agencies and civic clubs to  provide food, clothing and essential items to needy students. She said a hungry student is not likely to do well on his or her classwork.

Likewise, a student who is in need of a warm coat or new shoes is not going to perform well at school. Wagner said nurses and school counselors help identify students who are in need of help.

“We build a relationship with students,” said Karrie Thomas, a nursing supervisor in the program. “It’s really rewarding to see the joy on heir faces when they get a new pair of schools

Last week, administrators from the health program joined other school staffers and volunteers from the Elks Lodge No. 825 help students shop for new shoes at Shoe Carnival in Johnson City.

“They know they can depend on us,” said Patricia Lane, assistant coordinator of the program. “We’ve developed a trust with the students.”

Wagner said that trust has allowed the program to offer nutritional and health education, including an opportunity for students to taste fruit and vegetables they don’t get at home.

“We had one student who had never seen a blueberry,” she said.


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