Hollister School District nurses’ roles have evolved quite a bit through the years, but even more dramatically since the pandemic’s onset.
These days, the school nurses overseeing health matters for the district spend a lot of time addressing COVID-19 issues while continuing to handle other duties that were already on their plate before the pandemic struck.
That broad base of tasks underscores how much the school nurse position, which falls under the Student Services Department at the district office, has changed. Those responsibilities can include the following, among a plethora of other duties:
- Case management of students with mild to serious health needs
- Training of Health Clerks who cover the health office
- Training school staff for students who need specialized health care procedures
- Asthma, Diabetes and Seizure management
- Vision and hearing screenings
- Oral Health and Child Health and Disability Prevention programs
- Emergency Care
While Credentialed School Nurse Miranda Eyster noted that asthma historically has been the most common diagnosis among students, she emphasized that COVID-19 forced a shift in priorities.
“We spend, I would say, the majority of our time dealing with COVID issues,” said Eyster, who is responsible for health needs at Sunnyslope, Maze and Rancho Santana Schools.
Credentialed School Nurse Anita Sarringhaus explained how nurses train staff and oversee care, while the health clerks at the sites provide that care. She emphasized students’ health and preventing childhood illness are top priorities.
“Our mantra is that healthy children learn better,” she said. “Our goal is to maximize students’ learning potential by meeting their health needs at school.”
This year, the district added a third credentialed school nurse — to go with health clerks at each school site — to help deal with the workload. Previously, Eyster and Sarringhaus oversaw four to five sites each. Now, each covers three sites. The new nurse, Alane Warren, comes with a wealth of knowledge regarding special education. She will cover duties at Ladd Lane, Rancho San Justo and R.O. Hardin schools.
Eyster recalled impacts brought on at various stages of the pandemic. She remembered “unchartered territory” with students home for the first year or so.
“Our role changed a lot because a lot of what we normally do, we couldn’t do anymore,” Eyster said.
The focus shifted to helping staff at school sites and employees in the district office along with “a lot of contact tracing.” They also worked with the nutrition department to make sure families received meals and even helped a homeless family raise money to go toward a hotel room and meals.
Before students returned to campuses, the nurses also did an abundance of preparation going over California Department of Public Health and OSHA guidelines that are more restrictive than school guidelines, Eyster said.
She noted that between last April and the start of the 2021-22 school year, protocols have changed based on evolving guidelines. Last spring, a classroom would have been shut down with a positive case. Now that doesn’t necessarily happen. The positive student must quarantine. But the students in class — who had an exposure while wearing masks — are allowed to continue attending as long as they quarantine from all extracurricular activities, remain asymptomatic and test twice in the 10-day modified quarantine.
Sarringhaus said the updated state guidance has allowed the district to prevent absences after the long period of remote and hybrid learning. She oversees Cerra Vista, Hollister Dual Language Academy and Calaveras/Accelerated Achievement Academy.
“It’s allowing us to keep kids in school safely, which is our No. 1 priority,” she said.
A big part of that effort comes from the health clerks at individual schools. While the nurses have to have a bachelor’s degree, a public health nurse license and a credential, the clerks range from those with medical backgrounds to “moms” who find their ways to these roles because they enjoy the work, Sarringhaus said.
“”Being that there are only three of us, in a district of 5,700 students, we could not do our jobs without our health clerks,” she said. “They care for our students every day and alert us when they have concerns. We then take that information and act on it.”
While Sarringhaus has been a nurse with the district for 15 years, Eyster started in 2013 as a contract nurse helping students with diabetes.
“I loved being in a school environment, being around students and getting to know them,” Eyster said. “It’s sort of a different thing every day. It’s never stale. There’s always something new to learn.”
COVID-19 continues creating challenges with more students on campuses this year, she said.
“There seems to be this sense of stress or fear or worry that everybody has in regard to COVID,” she said. “We’re constantly tampering down their feelings, telling them it’s going to be OK.”
Assistant Superintendent Kip Ward said with everything going on, the three nurses have been handling “unbelievable amounts of work” under pressure.
“I have such respect and appreciation for what they’re going through and handling on a daily basis,” Ward said.