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Guilford County hires health aides to ease burden of school nurse shortage

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that one nurse should be inside every school. In Guilford County there are 33 nurses at 127 schools.

"We really are overwhelmed," said Susan Hawks, lead nursing supervisor for the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services. The county has now hired three health aides to ease the burden on school nurses.

"These three school health aides, they are very organized and very hard workers...they have really helped us get on top of some of the things we need to get on top of in the schools," Hawks continued.

The health aides are Certified Nursing Assistants and are supervised by a Registered Nurse inside the school. The health aides have recently completed six weeks of orientation and are now assisting nurses with their daily responsibilities.

"We did hygiene classes and we did vision screenings, sometimes we'll do dental screenings or something we will do health assessments for the records," explained Tammy Bryant, one of the new aides.

Hawks says 10 percent of students in Guilford County Schools have a major and chronic health condition like asthma, diabetes, seizures or allergies. Nurses spend a lot of their time working on health plans for the students, communicating with parents and doctors and teaching kids how to manage their conditions.

"We like to do a lot of health promotion when we have time, but our time is limited, so the school health aides in fact, they've been teaching several classes on hygiene, prevention of flu and colds in school settings," Hawks said.

Each nurse is assigned up to five schools and may only be at a school once a week. In event of an emergency or illness, teachers and staff often have to step in. Hawks says she would like to see the health aides helping alleviate some of the responsibility on teachers.

"We would like to take the burden off the teachers, the teachers need to teach and we need to be able to provide the health care," she said.

Bryant says she is excited to be a part of a program with nurses who are putting the care of students first.

"From elementary to high school and to see their relationship with their students it's amazing. The children basically trust the nurse and they know when they have an issue to come to the nurse and talk to them and they will find the resources that they need," she said.