Concetta Carcone works in a two-story brick building at Frankfort-Schuyler Junior-Senior High School in Herkimer County; a shiny silver metal statue of a knight sits proudly on the lawn outside. The school teams are known as the Knights.
But when a knight in shining armor is not available, the school nurse surely is.
Carcone has been fulfilling that role for 22 years. In the life of a school nurse, it’s all about paying attention. Time matters, education matters, knowledge matters and response matters.
To be her best at the job, Carcone still attends professional development conferences and forums every year. Her quest is to learn about changes in care, and to acquire new response tools for problems ranging from an allergic reaction, to handling a student seizure, to knowing the signs for trauma.
“Things are changing every day,” she said, ranging from regulations and immunizations to mental health concerns.
Carcone has attended NYSUT’s annual Professional Issues Forum on Health Care, now 15 years old, for the past decade. Continuing education topics at the forum have included methods to respond to the opioid epidemic, working with students with special medical needs, dealing with student bullying and changes in reporting (Visit www.nysut.org/healthcare for more information on these topics). This week, she is attending a mental health First Aid workshop that she learned about at the NYSUT forum. It will give her additional skills to respond to students with mental illness or substance abuse.
“Opioid abuse is a big new development that was not prevalent in the earlier years of my career,” said Carcone, who serves about 650 students. A nurse who works 15 hours a week also provides services at the elementary school, where there is a full-time nurse, and at the junior-senior high school.
“There’s a lot out there you have to keep up on,” she said. “There’re more kids being medicated now and I think that has a lot to do with mental health issues.” Over-medication is a concern, she said.
A member of the Frankfort-Schuyler Teachers Association, Carcone continues to advocate for legislation introduced by NYSUT that would provide a school nurse in every building in the “Big 5” cities in New York State. The bill has passed the New York Senate and is in the Assembly.
“I am in favor of it to have it mandated to have a school nurse in every building. It’s for the safety of the children,” she said, noting that some nurses have to cover two or three school buildings; others are responsible for more than 1,000 students. Carcone went to a NYSUT Representative Assembly as an alternate delegate several years ago, where she went to the microphone to speak in favor of the proposed bill.
“School nurses are the solution to responding to students health needs and allowing school to be a place for learning. School nurses have a critical eye assessing and preventing health crisis for students,” said Anne Goldman, a nurse and chair of NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council. Goldman is also a vice president at United Federation of Teachers for non-Department of Education professionals.
How does this work?
“A student with asthma who has early symptoms of respiratory distress can avoid a trip to the ER when a school nurse steps in and provides the much-needed bronchodilator treatment,” explained Goldman.
Carcone is a first responder for many sports injuries, including concussions. She has helped protect students in the throes of a seizure, keeping them safe and from harm until an ambulance arrives, turning them on their sides and moving objects and students away from them. Recently, a girl was playing basketball in her physical education class and tripped, fracturing her shoulder in two places, Carcone recalled. Her job was to assess the student and provide care until the ambulance arrived.
Regular duties include ear and eye screening, scoliosis screening, medication and Body Mass Index tracking to the Center for Disease Control. She provides hygiene education, and regularly helps students with diabetes. She cares for 20 students who have EpiPens (epinephrine auto injectors).
“It’s becoming more of an issue now with peanut, latex and shellfish allergies. There are more food allergies now,” Carcone explained.
In her school, there are also several students with Von Willibrand disease, a blood-clotting disorder.
“I love helping the kids and making sure they’re okay. It’s a very rewarding job,” Carcone said.