School nurses at the Spruce Mountain schools have stepped up during COVID-19. Pictured from left are Jennifer Kachnovich, Jessica Jewett and Deanna Hamblin. Submitted photo

REGION — The three school nurses in Regional School Unit 73 are going above and beyond to keep students and staff safe and in school in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Deanna Hamblin is the nurse at Spruce Mountain Primary School in Livermore.

In Jay, Jennifer Kachnovich covers the elementary school while Jessica Jewett cares for those in both the middle and high schools.

“It has definitely been a very busy and challenging school year,” Kachnovich wrote in an email Friday, Jan. 22. The nurses were sent a series of questions to learn more about their added responsibilities this year.

Jewett, hired by the district last summer following the retirement of Jackie Kilbreth, is new to school nursing.

Typical duties as described in her job description included providing health assessments and intervention when needed; using cumulative data to accommodate the needs of individual students and developing individualized health plans if needed; give input on health related portions of I.E.P. or 504 plans; administer medications; hearing and vision screening; monitor students’ immunization compliance, serve as a resource for health education, coordinate school and community health activities and act as the liaison between home, school and community; assist in the formation of health policies for the district; maintain and update student health records; prepare school budget for health supplies; prepares and organizes first aid kits; prepares statistical reports for the DOE, DHHS, and Maine CDC.

Hamblin and Kachnovich during a typical school year usually see 40-65 students per day in their nursing offices for such things as medication administration, lice checks, first aid, hygiene, and emotional support.

“It is a very busy day and you really don’t know what is going to walk through the door each day,” they indicated.

Throughout the year they also provide a variety of health services for students and staff which include hearing and visioning screening/referrals, coordinate flu clinics for students and staff, coordinate dental health services through the tooth angel program, complete annual state reports, track illnesses and absent percentage within the building, communicate with doctors regarding medical diagnosis and medication, collect up to date health information and create school health plans as needed, provide employee first aid and coordinate referrals to occupational health as needed, provide and coordinate annual staff education and training, maintain student health files and track immunizations, and meet with parents and staff regarding health needs at school.

“New responsibilities/duties have centered around the covid pandemic,” Jewett wrote. “Making sure I am up to date on all the current guidelines from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and the DOE (Department of Education) so I can effectively instruct parents and staff when there is a potential or confirmed positive case in the school. Learning the details of contact tracing and the timeline around that and then working with the other nurses and superintendent to confirm dates of when people should test and when they can return to school and who are their close contacts that need to be notified.”

“Being a school nurse during a pandemic has brought on a lot of change,” Kachnovich wrote. “In addition to our usual school nurse duties, we have now taken on an additional time consuming role of tracking covid and preventing the spread of Covid within our district. Most of our day is now spent tracking and following up on Covid symptoms, test results, and covid cases as well as educating families and staff on CDC guidelines.

“Because symptoms and test results can come at any time of the day, we are working a lot of evenings and weekends in addition to our usual hours,” she continued. “We are working closely with administration and are in frequent contact with DOE & CDC which includes attending meetings so we can stay up to date on DOE/CDC recommendations. Testing positive to Covid or having a direct exposure can be a stressful time for the school, families, and employees. Our goal is to help guide everyone through these stressful times, offer emotional support, and help decrease the spread of Covid.

“Keeping our school, staff, and students safe is our top priority,” Kachnovich wrote.

Each day and week is different for the nurses, depending on how many covid cases, exposures, or potential cases the district has that they need to follow. Because a case can come at any time, they feel it is important to be on call 24/7 to be able to triage each scenario.

“We all feel proud to help our students, staff and community with any scenario or questions,” they wrote.

In her previous job, Jewett had been part of the organization for 18 plus years and knew the ins and outs and had the trust and confidence of her co-workers and patients.

“Coming to a new place and not knowing all the ins and outs and having to establish confidence and trust was a little daunting to think about,” she wrote. “But it has been a great transition and the staff have been more than welcoming. The nurse I replaced was a huge help and came in to orient me those first few days. … Jen and Deanna have been amazing with helping me navigate this new role. Superintendent Albert and my principals Mr. Plourde and Mrs. Luce have been so supportive as well. Great team to be a part of.”

“As school nurses, we have had to step up and become infection control nurses overnight and completely change our roles,” Kachnovich wrote. “Guidance on Covid-19 is rapidly changing as more information on this virus becomes available. As school nurses, we have had to adapt to constant change and stay up to date on the latest guidance.”

School nurses aren’t trained for pandemic nursing, Hamblin noted.

“This is something we have trained ourselves,” she wrote. “We have been keeping up with the changing of guidelines. At each building, we have had to have an isolation room for students that become ill during the day.

“I find it challenging to put a primary age, sick child in a room after assessing them while waiting for a parent to come pick them up,” Hamblin continued. “In years past, we have been able to keep children at school with a runny nose, headache or belly ache but now with our new guidelines we have to send them home.”

For Jewett, the most rewarding part is making a positive impact in people’s lives.

“With this pandemic, the school nurses have been able to help the community by educating and monitoring students and staff to make sure the schools are a safe place to be. The students deserve to be able to continue to receive an education and it feels good to be able to help make that happen safely,” she wrote.

For Kachnovich, it’s being able to step up as nurses during a pandemic and really make a difference.

“Due to the pandemic, we have had to take on a leadership role within our district this year. Being able to use our nursing skills to help our community, school district, families, and coworkers has been a very rewarding experience,” she wrote.

“It has been very rewarding to see all our staff working together with one common goal of keeping each other safe and continuing to educate our students,” Hamblin noted.

According to the nurses, the pandemic was unexpected. They could have never imagined it could have been a possibility and for this long.

“The pandemic has really helped us build strong relationships with our administration, district staff, and many families,” they noted. “What has really made us successful this year is the team we have had behind us. … Having a great team is what has made the difference.”

Making the personal connections have been enjoyable for Jewett and Hamblin this year.

“I am always amazed at how grateful people are when you do something for them that seems so little but to them is big,” Jewett wrote.

“Everyone has been so appreciative of our efforts this year,” Hamblin noted.

“The most enjoyable part of my job is being able to help people and make a difference in my community and school district,” Kachnovich wrote. “I am a nurse because I enjoy helping others and that never changes regardless of what type of nursing role I have at the time. It is a very rewarding experience.”

The nurses noted a lot more has been asked of staff in addition to their normal duties, including following the new COVID-19 safety guidelines that are required daily.

The nurses are proud to say that the COVID-19 cases that have been identified in their district as of right now have come from community transmission.

“The safety guidelines are working at keeping our schools safe and we have our staff to thank for that,” they noted. “The ability to keep our district open and safe is truly a team approach. We could not be more proud of our staff here at RSU 73.”

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