School district deals with critical nurse shortage

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 9:51 AM CDT
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SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - School districts in Alabama and across the country are facing a critical school nurse shortage this year, during a school year even more centered on student health and safety.

“[We] rely very heavily on an agency to supply nurses for us - sub nurses, nurses to attend games, and nurses to ride certain bus routes. Right now, we’ve been dealing with a pretty critical shortage of those agency nurses being available,” said Cindy Warner, Shelby County Schools.

Shelby County Schools is now using federal COVID money to fund two temporary floating nurse positions it hopes to fill soon.

And other districts are pinched as well.

Jefferson County School’s supervising nurse confirmed to WBRC Tuesday staffing is “definitely an issue right now”.

Dana DePew, MSN, RN, CNS, Vice President of the Alabama Association of School Nurses emphasized it’s an issue that so many medical entities are dealing with.

“As in all areas of health care across the state, school nurses are feeling the effects of the nursing shortage,” she said in a statement. “During the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult to find coverage for the extra demands brought on by COVID related issues. Assessing symptomatic students, reporting positive cases, and exposure notifications take a great deal of time on top of the day to day health care needs of students. Many systems are using funds earmarked for Covid to hire temporary help, such as floating nurses to help cover staffing absences related to illness or clinic aids to help with the day to day operations related to health care. School nurses are having to be more mindful than ever with time management and preventing burnout. I hope we all learned last year the importance of taking good care of ourselves so we can take good care of our students.”

There’s an estimated 95,000 school nurses in the US. The American Nursing Association called on the US Department of Health this month to declare nurse staffing shortages in general a “national crisis”.

In addition to shifting funds to attract more nurses, some districts have nurses float between schools to make sure students have access to medical care.

“We have a lead nurse who does the schedules and organizes which nurses may float if someone is absent and we can’t find a nurse, which nurse will cover for that nurse,” said Dr. Autumm Jeter, Bessemer City Schools, “It’s pretty flexible and it works.”

Some school leaders say nurse shortages in schools could be because nurses can get paid more working at other types of facilities.

If you are interested in applying for open positions, many are listed on district websites.

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