COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Columbus City Schools nurses and union members said the district is in a state of emergency and that nurses are overwhelmed.
The group rallied outside the board of education’s meeting Tuesday night in an effort to have their voices heard.
The nurses said they are overworked and feel like there is little communication with district leaders.
As for the district, some of the nurses’ concerns were addressed by the superintendent in her report. She was not available to speak after the meeting.
Dozens of Columbus City Schools nurses are calling out for help.
“We have had meetings with the district officials and it seems that the responses that we usually get are a ‘We’ll get back to you,’” explained Columbus Education Association President John Coneglio.
The group gathered to declare a state of emergency, claiming members are overwhelmed by contact tracing, protocols, and little communication, which is impacting their daily duties.
“In the absence of a nurse, a secretary or a trained staff member is literally helping a child administer insulin,” said CEA Nurse Representative Jackie Broderick Patton. “I’m a former ICU nurse and when I worked in the hospital, we had to have a two-nurse check for insulin, so this is very serious.”
She also expressed concerns about nurses working extended hours.
“We have extended time for after-hour pay. Unfortunately, since we are lacking experienced leadership in our health services department, that extended time has not been boarded,” Patton said.
A spokesperson for CCS said nurses are salaried but do qualify for extended time. That extended time was recently approved at the Sept. 21 board meeting but cannot exceed 111 hours per employee and a total not to exceed 12,765 combined hours for time worked contract tracing from Aug. 23, 2021, through June 3, 2022.
Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon addressed some other concerns in her superintendent report for Tuesday’s meeting.
“We know contact tracing can be time-consuming and we are committed to allocating resources that will alleviate ongoing process for own school staff members,” she said.
A contract is in the works, but it will only aid contact tracing for nurses and it will still be their responsibility.
Another resource Dixon talked about was testing options.
“We will begin distributing free rapid COVID tests for any student or staff member in a school or transportation center who is symptomatic or is a close contact of a positive case,” Dixon stated during her report.
Broderick said she wants to see these issues addressed sooner rather than later.
“What I fear is that we’re going to lose those new nurses and then everybody in between because we all know there’s a nursing shortage,” she said.
Nurses explained it takes several hours to contact trace, sometimes a full day.
Columbus Education Association also provided a list of measures they’d like the district to take, including training more people for contact tracing and putting together COVID-19 compliance task forces in buildings to ensure compliance with all safety protocols.
The full list of health and safety measures CEA is calling for are as follows:
- Vaccination or bi-weekly testing requirement for all CCS staff.
- Ohio Department of Health or equivalent home COVID-19 rapid testing kits made available for students and families in all school buildings, like they are at Columbus Metropolitan Library locations.
- A “Daily Pass” electronic symptom screening checklist system to be completed each day by students before entering buildings, as has been implemented successfully in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
- COVID-19 compliance task force in each school building, with the Building Administrator maintaining primary responsibility for coordination with the School Nurse and Senior Faculty Representative to review and enforce compliance with all health and safety protocols.
- Air purifiers installed where MERV 13 filters cannot be utilized by a building HVAC system.
- Contact tracing supplemental hours and training made available to all CEA bargaining unit members to relieve overwhelmed school nurses.
- Cabinet-level meetings where health and safety decisions are made include a medical professional from the Health Services Department.
Columbus City Schools also provided another statement reiterating what Dixon stated Tuesday evening in her Superintendent’s report:
“Our school nurses have been invaluable in helping to lead our District response to the ongoing pandemic. We appreciate their expertise and unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our students, staff, and community.
Much like all other school districts around the region, we are balancing in-person learning for all students with the quarantine and isolation procedures that are established by the Ohio Department of Health. We want all students to be in the classroom with their teacher, but we must direct some students to remain at home.
Quarantine and isolation procedures are one piece of the mitigation strategies that we have in place to reduce the spread of the virus. We cannot control what happens outside of school, but we do have measures and strategies in place to ensure in-person learning happens safely for students and staff. We are not seeing large numbers of in-class COVID transmission, which means our mitigation strategies are working.
We are partnering with our health partners to implement additional initiatives such as:
* We are finalizing a contract with an outside vendor to provide nursing staff to conduct our contact tracing as we committed to doing. We know contact tracing can be time consuming, and we are committed to allocating resources that will alleviate the ongoing process for our own school staff members.
* We are partnering with Columbus Public Health, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and Ohio Health to schedule student vaccination opportunities. This will be especially critical when the vaccine is approved for children under the age of 12.
* We will begin distributing free rapid COVID tests for any student or staff member in a school or transportation center who is symptomatic or a close contact of a positive case.
As part of our transparency, we continue to provide weekly updates using the COVID-19 Analytics and Targeted Surveillance (CATS) Dashboard, as well as a school-based dashboard.
Our students deserve to be in their schools and in their classrooms as much as possible. We will continue to strengthen our current strategies and explore new ideas to keep our students and staff healthy and safe.”