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Some Richland 2 nurses on the verge of quitting due to increased COVID-related demands

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 9:12 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - School nurses across the Midlands are facing increased demands with large amounts of students either sick with COVID-19 or quarantined.

In addition to their regular nursing duties, many nurses also are acting as contact tracers.

Richland School District Two nurses are particularly hard hit, with some saying they’re on the verge of quitting.

“I have several nurses that are right there on the verge of right now today feeling like they can’t do it and they’re ready to quit because it is a lot,” Dawn MacAdams, R2′s Coordinator of Health Services, said. “We’re trying to put things into place to ease the burden, to make things more streamlined and easier to do, but when you’re doing new procedures and doing things in a new way, it always takes a little bit of planning to try and implement it well.”

R2 currently has nurses staffed in every school. However, the district is still hiring some unlicensed staff, including health room assistants. Many of its nurses are feeling overwhelmed and overworked, MacAdams said.

Across R2, 1600 students are currently out of the classroom, according to the district’s COVID dashboard. 291 students are either COVID positive or symptomatic, and 1316 students are quarantined.

Currently, district nurses are the ones gathering this data and calling parents. They’re identifying positive students, performing contact tracing to identify close contacts, and then notifying families individually that their students have to quarantine.

One R2 nurse told WIS that the current situation is “unsafe” and “dire.”

MacAdams says the R2 is working to streamline this system so instead of nurses making 50 or 100 phone calls, there is one notification that goes out to parents.

She also suggests that district nurses reach out to administrators or teaching assistants for contact tracing help. Additionally, teachers can make this work easier if they have an assigned seating chart.

“Nurses tend to want to want to try and do it all, and this is a situation we can’t,” MacAdams said. “And we have to lean on others and the squeaky wheel gets the help.”

This isn’t a problem unique to R2. Many districts across the state are facing similar issues. Lexington-Richland School District Five and Richland School District One each have two school nurse openings. LR5 officials say their nurses are working long hours on nights and weekends.

RELATED STORY | SC school districts struggle to find nurses as COVID cases surge

MacAdams also acknowledges the mental toll that the increased pandemic responsibilities have taken on nurses. When making quarantine calls, they are sometimes met with screaming parents.

“It’s not personal against the nurse, it’s just that reaction in that moment, but that doesn’t stop the sting to the nurse when you’ve just been cussed at and yelled at by a parent because you’re putting their child into quarantine,” she said. “We’re trying to do what’s best for their child, and we’re getting blasted for it. And that’s hard to take.”

The South Carolina Department of Education recently sent school districts a list of DHEC-approved vendors that can assist with contact tracing and administrative procedures related to COVID-19. To pay for this service, the district can use any of the federal COVID relief funding they’ve received.

R2 officials say they’re looking into this to see if it’s a viable option.

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