School nurses across the country are answering the call to serve in many ways during COVID19. In Camden, New Jersey, school nurses who can sew are making face masks, and those who can’t sew, either cut material or deliver supplies. It has been a wonderful collective effort initiated by Christa Varga, a school nurse with a passion for community service.
Below is Christa’s story, along with pictures of the school nurses working on the project. They may be physically distanced, but they are socially connected. This is a virtual sewing circle. As Christa said, “Sometimes “heroic” acts can be found in the little things.”
Like many of my school nursing colleagues, I found the headlines about the shortage of PPE astounding. I was admittedly naive. Never did I think that I would be afraid to do my job as a nurse-whether in a clinical or a school setting-for scarcity of protection and lack of somewhere to obtain this protection. I felt panicked, vulnerable and betrayed by my own beliefs that it would always be accessible. I also felt conflicted that while I was working from home as a school nurse for my district, I was not on the “front lines.” I started networking with my nurse friends, participating in webinars, reading way too much and searching the internet for how our medical community was adapting. Our nursing community was doing what it always does-being creative, flexible, problem solvers and critical thinkers. “MacGyver”-ing and re-purposing equipment and working together as a team.
During one of my internet searches, I came across an article highlighting Bruce Spiess, an anesthesiologist at the University of Florida Health, who designed a mask alternative to offset the shortage of PPE using a surgical wrapping, Halyard 600. The wrapping is usually discarded after the surgical instruments are unwrapped. The Halyard 600 material has the ability to block aerosols and droplets, including water, bacteria and other particles.
My local hospital’s “Green Team” had piloted a program in 2018, to save uncompromised surgical wrapping and then sew the sheets together into water-resistant sit-upon/mats to give to the homeless, sleeping bags and tote bags. I got in touch with one of the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists who is part of the Green Team initiative. As luck would have it, she had some stored that hadn’t been in the hospital for months ready for people to sew into projects. Let’s make some masks!
The Camden City School Nurses jumped in without hesitation. Our school nurses have been sewing masks out of the material to give to local first responders, hospital staff and to district staff members who assist in the food and technology distribution. Pieces of the material that are not ideal for the outer layer of a mask are used as a filter in between the layers or in a pocket of a cotton mask. While some facilities are not allowing the use of “homemade” PPE at this time, it is reassuring to have a supply of masks made of repurposed medical material available. The school nurses who don’t sew are cutting the material, acquiring supplies and arranging for distribution. Friends of friends, new friends found on social media, the local community, including two high school students, have also gotten involved and are sewing masks with the material. The feeling of giving back when you feel helpless is where hope begins and people really come together. The mask production has also been a way for the district nurses to work together while working apart.
As I talk to my school families and my colleagues, I get the sense that many would like to help while adhering to the physical distancing recommendations. Our school nursing practice doesn’t always require direct care. We are still in the position to advocate and empower through action and education.
Here are a few ways that school nurses can remind our families that we are still here for them:
-Volunteer at food distribution sites (while wearing PPE) or help get the word out to your school community of food resources that are available.
-Call families and offer support. Parenting is hard. Parenting during a pandemic while also home-schooling is REALLY challenging. Mental health support is crucial for our students and their families.
-Check-in with your students who have asthma because allergy season is here and their asthma needs to be controlled more now than ever to avoid trips to the ER.
-Reach your students and their families through social media and online classroom platforms in conjunction with their teachers. There is no better time to educate on prevention and health promotion.
-Engage our students to help (see suggestions below) and care for each other. Genuine human goodness-that warm and fuzzy feeling, that even for a moment, shows them that the good can outweigh the bad and our youngest students can also feel like they have made a difference in someone’s day.
Sometimes “heroic” acts can be found in the little things. Here are some suggestions for how our communities can help:
- Ask your students and families to make get-well cards, colored pictures or drawings to hang in rooms of patients’ on isolation. School nurses can coordinate the collection and drop off of these cards to your local medical facility.
- Make thank you cards for postal carriers (surprise them by leaving it in the mailbox) and drop off to EMS, fire, police or hospital staff (don’t forget all of those departments behind the scenes!).
- Put signs on your window or door thanking the delivery staff and postal workers for their continued service.
- Donate blood or plasma-especially if you are an AB donor (the only universal plasma). Know someone who has recovered from COVID-19 and it’s been at least 14 days since their last symptom? Encourage them to donate “convalescent” plasma for antibodies.
- Spring cleaning? Donate 2-way, video baby monitors and walkie talkies. Hospitals, especially ER and critical care units, are using them to assist with monitoring their patients who are quarantined. They assist the health care provider with visualizing their patient, gives the (non-intubated) patient some reassurance so they don’t feel so isolated and reduces the number of times the health care provider needs to enter the room (which can also save PPE).
- Sew masks, surgical hats, and headbands. Can’t sew? Donate your time or supplies to those who do. Offer to cut patterns, sew buttons on headbands, donate pipe cleaners, wire, elastic, material or make porch pick-ups/drop-offs. Remember the helpers in the community settings as well-staff members who work in mental health, addiction, corrections, behavioral health centers, therapeutic group homes, and residential settings.
- Own an RV that’s just sitting in your yard? There is even a Facebook group for temporarily donating the RV as a place to stay for healthcare workers who fear bringing the virus home to their families.
- Donate to local food groups who pool donations to purchase meals for first responders from local businesses and arrange for delivery (i.e. Food4Staff, Feeding the Frontline, Frontline Foods). Win/win: supports local businesses and provides meals for first responders.
- Next time you are heading to the store or ordering take out, offer to do the same for an elderly, high-risk or compromised family member, friend or neighbor. Even if they say “no”, isolation is distressing and your phone call makes sure they feel less alone and remind them of social support.
- Share positive news and acts of kindness with your schools and community. Kindness inspires kindness!
Bio: Christa Varga is a South Jersey native who is grateful for her positions as a certified school nurse with the Camden City School District and a per diem staff nurse in the Emergency Department at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Community Health Education from William Paterson University, a Bachelor of Nursing from Thomas Jefferson University and a School Nurse Certificate from Rowan University with some graduate credits sprinkled in there. She is an extrovert struggling with distancing. Her perfect day is one that involves lots of outdoor activities, listening to music and being a little windblown.