The pandemic may be drawing to a close, but one of the most important lessons learned from the crisis should stay with the city for a long time to come: A nurse in every school is vital to the well-being of our students.
And not just any nurse. When students began returning to school buildings in September 2020, the city engaged agency nurses as a stopgap measure to assure every school had coverage at a time when New York City was on high alert for a second wave of COVID-19.
However, the drawbacks soon became apparent. Agency nurses are not trained to use students’ automated health records. Without access to those records, they can’t monitor outbreaks of COVID, the flu and other illnesses, a crucial part of a school nurse’s job.
Agency nurses are also itinerant — they can be assigned anywhere at any time. They don’t have the opportunity to form relationships with students and staff, and they have no roots in the school community.
School nurses, on the other hand, are an integral part of the school community. They are familiar with city Department of Education rules, regulations and procedures, and they can effectively participate on their school’s COVID-19 building response team. They will shadow another school nurse for a few weeks prior to getting their own assignment at a new school.
With the end of the school year approaching, more than 400 agency nurses will leave the system. Now is the time for the city to act. The City Council budgeted money to hire a school nurse in every school, but the mayor has not set aside any money for this priority.
In addition to hiring a full-time school nurse in every school, we need a way to ensure agency nurses are not relied upon to fill gaps in the future. Years before the pandemic, the UFT went to arbitration and got the city to agree to create a floating pool of DOE school nurses to cover absences and vacancies throughout the city until those positions are permanently filled. But the program was never implemented.
Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to address this issue once and for all in the final city budget, which is due by July 1.
For nearly two decades, Zully Brons-Bailey worked simultaneously as a school nurse and a hospital nurse in the Bronx. Now serving 640 students in grades pre-K through 8 at the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx, she tackles everything from routine care to medical crises.