The Hall County School District is desperate for more nurses, especially as the omicron wave rages and COVID-19 cases rise across the district.
As of Thursday, the district reported 224 coronavirus cases, 291 at-home quarantines and 339 at-school quarantines (those who are allowed to mask up in school after coming into close contact with a case but who have no symptoms).
On Christmas Eve, the district posted a job listing on its website looking to hire more nurses and substitute nurses.
The district has 43 full-time nurses, but two of them will be leaving soon, said Andrea Williamson-English, head nurse for the school district. And while two may not sound like a seismic shortage, it would be a “huge loss,” because then two schools – and potentially thousands of students – would be without a nurse. She is conducting interviews to find replacements.
An even bigger problem, though, is the lack of substitute nurses, she said. They only have seven right now, but they need about a dozen.
“That's what I need the most right now,” she said. “I would love to have a much healthier sub nurse pool.” And even with seven substitutes on her list, many of them also work in hospitals or for other school systems
But simply hiring more substitutes is not exactly an ideal solution.
“Our children deserve continuity and familiarity and the comfort of being in the care of someone who knows them very well,” she said. “Is it dire to me? Yes, because I'm competing in a nursing shortage with hospitals and other medical settings.”
Williamson-English was a hospital nurse for 10 years before joining the school district, and she said school nursing shortages can present challenges that don’t arise in hospital settings.
“If somebody's down (in a hospital), we just spread out the patients a little bit more,” she said. “But when it comes to a school setting, if my nurse is out, there's no one else if I can’t get a clinic substitute in there, so that is a very big missing piece to the care that we feel is very vital.”
She said they have a dedicated team of about nine contact tracers and that the nursing shortage will not hinder their ability to track coronavirus cases.
To attract and retain more nurses, the district has increased pay by about $3 an hour, or roughly $480 extra each month, effective this month. Salary information was not available before publication.
Another perk of the job is scheduling. For example, school nurses are off on weekends and holidays, including spring break, unlike many hospital nurses. The district also pays for their continuing education, which they would typically pay out of pocket every couple of years. The training is also “very school-nursing specific,” Williamson-English said, which is why they “have some of the best nurses.”
“I have to say, Hall County, one of our strengths is we have a very solid nursing department,” she said. “I'm very proud of what our nurses do.”