Visalia Unified hires help for overworked school nurses

Visalia Unified approves contract with Maxim Healthcare Staffing to assist school nurses with routine medical issues, contact tracing and quarantining procedures

VISALIA – The toll the pandemic has taken on health care workers and students has been well documented but there is another group of health care workers, who work directly with students, suffering in relative silence.

School nurses are charged with keeping children safe and keeping them in school when it is safe, a difficult task as school districts enter a 19th month of the pandemic. In addition to their normal routine of inhalers, stomach aches, bumps and bruises, school nurses are now asked to track down patient zero for exposure of COVID-19 in an often asymptomatic group which doesn’t know it’s carrying the virus. Then they have to track the modified quarantine protocol either involving 10 days out of school or two negative tests, on the day of exposure and another 10 days later, for students to avoid missing class time.

Since late August, an average of 190 staff members and 234 students per week have been forced to miss time at school while quarantining for exposure to the coronavirus at Visalia Unified School District (VUSD).

“It is a lot,” said Dedi Somavia, assistant superintendent of human resources for VUSD.

The number of students and staff out on quarantine each day and week varies greatly, but Somavia did say there seems to be more students out at the high school level because students are switching classes every period and on alternating days, they spend time with different students during breaks and they have more extra curricular and co-curricular activities like sports and band.

“At the elementary level, students are in the same class and tend to play with the same students from their class during breaks,” Somavia said. “At the high school it just seems to spread easier.”

Somavia said extra hours for all school nurses have already been approved, but it may not be enough if the number of exposures remains high. That’s why the district is calling in reinforcements. At its Sept. 14 meeting, the board of trustees unanimously approved a contract with Maxim Healthcare Staffing. The company will provide registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) upon request to assist school nurses over the next year with contact tracing and other medical issues.

“Our nurses have stepped up and gotten the job done but we want to make sure we have enough people to support them as needed,” interim superintendent Doug Cardoza said.

School nurses, those who are traditionally at a school site for many years, are registered nurses who oversee the treatment nurses, who are typically studying to become an RN, are an RN but only want to work part-time, or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Each of VUSD’s middle and high schools have a full-time school nurse assigned to campus every day while elementary schools have a combination of school and treatment nurses at the site. VUSD employs 12 school nurses and 29 treatment nurses.

“All of our employees have seen immense changes over the last year and a half,” Somavia said. “They have taken on more work due to the circumstances and still teach and care for kids every day.”

According to the contract, Maxim provides staffing which offers a wide range of nursing services at schools such as catheterizations, tracheostomy suctioning, tube feeding, medications, and toileting assistance. Maxim employees can also accompany students on a bus to and from school, act as a liaison between parents and teachers, maintain confidential records, and even check in on students and staff at home.

“We are doing all we can to keep kids in school,” Cardoza said.

Cardoza said he isn’t sure if or when the district will need to take advantage of the health care assistance but said the district wanted to be proactive and prepared if there was a high level outbreak in the schools. While the district is still working out the details of the contract, Maxim’s placement fee is $5,000 per employee or 30% of all salary for all hours worked in the district, whichever is higher.

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