When Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) closed March 16 in an effort to slow the spread of cornonavirus (COVID-19), school nurses left behind their offices, but not their medical knowledge and drive to help people stay healthy.
Nearly 50 school nurses work in CCPS – a mix of employees of the Charles County Department of Health and agency nurses. Since schools closed in mid-March, school nurses have been staffing the COVID-19 call center for the health department from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Following Gov. Hogan’s mandate on physical distancing, the nurses are now working from home answering calls and providing information, support and reassurance, Sheila Brockmann, school nurse at La Plata High School, said.
“I have been in school health for 18 years and this is the first time school nursing staff has been utilized to work in a different capacity,” Peggy Bird, interim school health program manager, said. Bird oversees the school health program with Cheryl Smith, the acting assistant nursing supervisor for CCPS.
Brockmann said when news of COVID-19 was first reported, she kept an eye on it. “When we first started hearing about COVID-19, I became obsessed with reading about it, and watching news reports about it,” she said, adding that the globe has grappled with other public health concerns in the recent past such as the avian flu, SARS, H1N1 and Ebola. “They were scary, but we were able to get them under control.”
Piccowaxen Middle School’s nurse Melissa Golden admits to not being overly concerned about COVID-19 — at first. “My first thoughts on coronavirus virus was that it was not as prevalent as the regular flu, but I was wrong,” she said.
“With COVID-19, it became clear very quickly that this was something different,” Brockmann said “It was coming and coming fast. It was moving and changing and it was difficult for the medical experts to get a handle on it,” Brockmann said. “They will though, I am confident that we will get through this and be stronger and smarter for it.”
The school health program is a collaborative effort between CCPS and the Charles County Department of Health which allows for nurses in each school. Nurses make sure students are taking their maintenance medications for ADHD, allergies and other health issues. Schools are communities, ones that have people with asthma, diabetes, seizure disorders and those who have anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that is life-threatening. Then there are the everyday situations that call for a nurse’s attention — the occasional headache, injuries, stomachaches, pink eye and colds. “Because school nursing is such an autonomous position, someone who can think quickly, act responsibly and know when to ask for help — that makes a great school nurse,” Bird said.
Brockmann said she loves her job. “I love seeing my students every day and being their support at school,” she said. “I appreciate how difficult it must be for parents to send a child to school with a medical condition. I take that part of the job very seriously.”
Both Golden and Brockmann are nursing veterans. Brockmann started her nursing career in her native Philadelphia working on an in-patient psychiatric ward before briefly working with patients with dementia. She has worked in home health and started as a substitute school nurse before sharing the job at Walter J. Mitchell Elementary School and Mattawoman Middle School. She now works full time at La Plata High School.
Golden’s specialty is in step-down pulmonary/cardiology, and has worked as a nursing instructor at Prince George’s Community College, an investigative nurse for a health insurance company, as a home health nurse, in urgent care, and spent years working in hospitals and long-term treatment facilities. “I have a service heart and have always wanted to help people,” Golden said. “It was either nursing or social work. Nursing won out.”
School nurses, like other medical professionals, recommend physical distancing and maintaining good basic health through nutrition, hygiene and rest during the COVID-19 crisis. “We will make it through this and when we return to schools, the school nursing staff will be ready to care for CCPS students,” Bird said. “Many of my nurses have voiced that they greatly miss their school community, both students and staff.”
Brockmann, who works with high school students, understands how COVID-19 has upended lives. “I miss them so much,” she said of the students. “I think about them every day and wish we were at school going through our routine, and yes, even complaining about it a little. I look forward to when this passes, and when we will back at school and back to our normal routine. This too shall pass and [we] will have stories to tell our future generations about what it was like during this crazy time. ”
Charles County Public Schools provides 27,521 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 37 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.