School nurses facing challenging times

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan School Health Program Supervisor Carolyn Hallowell spoke to the members of the County Council June 19, telling the commissioners that school nurses are busier than ever. County Health Officer Roger Harrell observed at the left.

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
School Health Program Supervisor Carolyn Hallowell spoke to the members of the County Council June 19, telling the commissioners that school nurses are busier than ever. County Health Officer Roger Harrell observed at the left.

CAMBRIDGE — “A lot of people think we just give out pills, but that’s not true,” School Health Program Supervisor Carolyn Hallowell, RN said June 19.

Ms. Hallowell was speaking to the members of the Dorchester County Council, asking the commissioners to provide as much support as they could to the increasingly complex tasks performed by school nurses.

“School health is a slice of our community,” she said. “So you can imagine.”

Her program’s annual budget is $744,777, most of which comes from the Board of Education, with $143,940 from the council. In her 15 years in her post, Ms. Hallowell said, “The needs of Dorchester County school children have grown.”

For example, in 2010, there were 59,686 health room visits in the 11 public schools. That number climbed to 81,170 last year.

Though a person might picture bandages going on scraped knees, there’s more to it. Ms. Hallowell acknowledged that injuries and illnesses are treated in the nurses’ offices and the wellness centers in four schools, but there are also a wide variety of needs to be met, including head lice, incontinence, tube feedings, diabetes issues and more.

“We have a nurse giving meds every day,” County Health Officer Roger Harrell said. In fact, medicine was dispensed 27,924 times last year in Dorchester schools.

And then there’s good old bureaucracy, which requires considerable attention. “We’re responsible for maintaining a health record on each of our approximately 5,000 children,” Ms. Hallowell said.

Resources are stretched thin, and that’s one reason the program has difficulty in recruiting nurses.

In the past, one nurse could often cover two schools. Now, though, with the increased work load, it’s pretty much one for each – 12 nurses now serve Dorchester children.

Only six of them, however, get benefits, while the rest work by the hour, which means they are paid for 10 months’ work, maybe not the best way to hold on to a caregiver. As she wrapped up her remarks, Ms. Hallowell asked the commissioners to remember these issues at budget time.

“Please know, the School Health Program is only asking for the bare minimum,” she said.

The commissioners thanked Ms. Hallowell for her presentation. “God bless the school nurses,” Council Member Tom Bradshaw (District 5) said.

To contact Ms. Hallowell, call 410-228-7714, ext. 127.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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