District nurse Stephenie Sudduth is doing her best every day to protect students and teachers within the school system.
However, nearly two years into the pandemic, it’s a task that has become “mentally and physically exhausting.”
Before contact tracing was temporarily suspended earlier this month, Sudduth and her team were testing 150 people per day in the elementary, middle and high school.
Now, they test about 20 people per day in the high school and fewer than that in the elementary and middle school, she said.
Even though the nurses have been testing fewer people, there is not necessarily a sense of relief.
“Now I kind of feel like we are left in the dark,” she said. “I feel like since there’s not really a lot of tests anywhere, they’re hard to come by, it’s just a different kind of stress. I know for myself I want to protect these kids.”
School nurses in the district have been put under a considerable amount of stress during the pandemic, and their day-to-day work lives have become more challenging.
The district had 113 students and 12 staff out Thursday with COVID-19, Sudduth said. On Friday, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health reported an overall decline in active cases at 5,712, but there were still 473 new cases since the Wednesday report.
Sudduth also works weekends and school breaks as an ER nurse at Providence Medical Center in Wyandotte County, where she has worked for 10 years. She began working in school nursing in Eudora in September 2020.
“Comparing the ER nursing and school nursing, I would say school nursing is a lot harder,” Sudduth said.
She said one of the major differences is the connection she has to her patients in the school district. Seeing sick students and staff from the community she has grown to love takes an emotional toll, she said.
The hours also now tend to be longer and more draining, Sudduth said.
“It’s mentally and physically exhausting,” she said. “It’s hard because we are still trying to take care of the students that have health needs, like the diabetics and the epileptics and the students that mentally have health challenges.”
Sudduth said dealing with the regular health challenges on top of testing and other COVID-related issues can get overwhelming.
“Now, an assessment on a child takes longer than usual. The amount of questions we are asking to the students is longer than usual,” Sudduth said. “It’s no longer an eight-hour-a-day job that nurses are excited to get. It’s 12-hour days, 15-hour days, coming in on your days off to test.”
The lack of substitute nurses available has also been an issue for the district, Sudduth said.
“We can’t find a sub for a school nurse. It’s been very difficult,” she said. “And then when we do finally find one, they help us for a week or they end up with COVID or they end up sick. I think it’s hard to find good staff anywhere right now.”
Sudduth said her staff have been unbelievable and even come in on their days off to test people.
“It’s nice to share the same compassion about your job with your fellow co-workers. I am lucky to share that with them,” she said. “They have never once complained about going home and entering test results until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. I’m very proud of them.”
Sudduth said being part of a close community like Eudora has helped with her staff’s morale and motivated them to help as much as they can.
“That’s one of the reasons I chose to come to Eudora is just the small community, the family atmosphere,” she said.
School district spokesperson Mark Dodge said the community appreciates the hard work the school nurses have done.
“Stephenie and the nurses have gone above and beyond what we would imagine. They care so deeply about the students and the staff and the families that they serve,” Dodge said. “The leadership that they’ve provided in the health care of our district is amazing and is what has gotten us through this school year.”
LMH Health Chief Nursing Officer Traci Hoopingarner said the pandemic has been difficult on all nurses because there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
“You just think you’re going to get a hold of it and then something else happens,” Hoopingarner said. “So, you can really see the fatigue of dealing with this day to day because we don’t have just patients with COVID. We still have all the other things that people normally get.”
Hoopingarner said it is difficult because they have to deal with the pandemic firsthand every day at work. However, there are resources available through the American Nurses Association program “Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation,” which gives tips on handling stress and meditation, she said.
She also encourages nurses to try to take care of themselves, take breaks when needed and find things to do outside of work that make them happy.
“I think nurses take care of everyone and they forget to take care of themselves. It’s all right sometimes to put ourselves first and give ourselves that break we need,” Hoopingarner said.
She also said it is specifically important to appreciate school nurses right now who are taking care of students and staff and supporting their communities.
“It’s so important, just expressing the appreciation, and that the communities couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
Reach reporter Alyssa Wingo at email@example.com.
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