Roslyn school nurse Beth Schroeder was handling two 911 emergency calls Monday — one for a mental health issue, while another student was severely crashing on a new diabetic regimen.
She called it a typical day and used the story as a diorama to explain to lawmakers at NYSUT’s Health Care “Lobby” Day why a school nurse is needed in every building.
“Reinforcement is needed for all our children,” said Anne Goldman, head of NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council and a United Federation of Teachers vice president overseeing the Federation of Nurses.
The Capitol is still closed. But NYSUT nurses showed up in force via Zoom to thank lawmakers for passing safe staffing legislation that is still awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, and explain why other proposed NYSUT bills benefiting patients and students need support. At their core, each bill is about safe staffing in other areas: a school nurse needed in every building; more school counselors, psychologists and social workers needed in each district; and the need to end mandatory overtime for home care nurses.
The pandemic has deeply etched the need for safe staffing in hospitals.
“Loved ones were passed to us in the dark of night…we’ve witnessed the horrors of this time,” said Goldman.
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta spoke about the pandemic, acknowledging to nurses that “a lot of the burden was on your shoulders…you played a major role.”
Thanking lawmakers for passing the safe staffing bill, Goldman said in a point blank manner: “If we don't have staff, we can’t succeed.”
Disease permeates, she said, and it doesn't ask for whom you voted.
UFT Hospital nurse Nancy Shaulov told lawmakers how nurses get assigned three ICU patients when it should be one or two.
“We’re exhausted, and morale is down,” she said.
“Even before COVID, hospitals needed staffing ratios,” said UFT hospital nurse Howard Sandau.
“I’m forced to determine who I’m going to rescue,” said UFT nurse Rosanna Mazzatto, a member of the COVID airway rescue team.
Many of the nurses on the multiple Zoom room lobby day visits illustrated other challenges, many which have only increased.
Schroeder said there is an increase in obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and eating disorders, and said “mental health issues have increased in severity and numbers.” Diseases are also surfacing in children at much younger ages than normal, such as diabetes and asthma.
During the pandemic, some students have lost significant weight because without school meals, they have not had enough to eat, she said.
Schroeder said she went to Brentwood to help make meals for students while schools were closed, adding “the line for lunches was miles long.”
A school nurse is sometimes the only health care professional that a student sees. Along with injuries, illness, and emergencies, students are seen for asthma, diabetes, medicine dispensing, and chronic conditions. School nurses team with social workers, counselors and school psychologists to help students with struggles. Thus, in addition to a bill requiring a school nurse in every building, NYSUT is advocating for passage of legislation requiring adequate numbers of social workers, counselors and psychologists in districts.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, a former special education teacher, said no matter where he’s been – Bronx, Utica, Manhattan, Westchester, Buffalo — he is hearing the same thing: “We need more mental health professionals in schools… Before COVID, it was terrible. And we see more (need) now.”
Kira Bryant, a school social worker with the Westbury Teachers Association, explained that students are struggling with anxiety and the effects of so much screen time during the pandemic, not being allowed to touch things, and social isolation. It will be important to build up students’ socialization skills, she said.
Assemblyman Philip Ramos, D, Brentwood, said in his district there is one social worker for 2,000 students.
“All of this adds to the disparities you see, especially in diverse schools,” he said.
School mental health professionals are “one of the first defenses in preventing suicide, in preventing students from harming others,” said volunteer lobbyist Robert Cain, UFT.
Nurses serving in home care continue to face struggles from being forced to work overtime. Home care nurses such as Barbara Wisdom called mandatory overtime “very dangerous” and an “abuse in home care.”
Wisdom explained how a day’s caseload could be burdened further when the visiting nurse agency adds a later hospital discharge to the schedule, piling on another two to three hours of providing care at the end of a nurse’s day.
Then, there is getting home: public transportation, walking on foot in troublesome neighborhoods with a backpack and computer, traffic jams, and the nurse’s own family needs. She is provided with an escort but describes working in a tough area where “everywhere you look there’s a memorial for someone who has been killed.” Leaving a home late, and exhausted, adds to that stress.
“There is an ethical need to create an elimination of the abuse of staff,” Goldman said.
“All that is required is proper planning and staffing,” added Raquel Webb Geddes, Federation of Nurses/UFT.
Hospitals need beds, and sometimes discharge a patient one or two days early, explained Federation of Nurses/UFT hospital nurse Nancy Barth-Miller. “We feel we can safety discharge patients because they get full care at home. But it doesn’t work if the home nurse is exhausted.”
Home care nursing includes using high-tech equipment, nursing skills, and education of the patient and family.
“If lessons are to be learned from this pandemic,” said Goldman, “we health care professionals need tools.”