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Ohio's school nurses are sick of working long hours during the pandemic

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Nurses at the state's K-12 schools say they are short-staffed and overwhelmed with contact tracing.

More than a quarter of the nation’s schools don’t have a nurse in their buildings. And many school districts that have nurses share them between buildings. Even for those that do have a nurse on staff, the COVID pandemic is contributing to a shortage of them.

Kate King, the president-elect of the National Association of School Nurses, says there’s been a shortage of school nurses for a long time.

“It’s not that we don’t have nurses to work in schools. It’s that school boards, superintendents, other educational hiring entities did not hire school nurses,” King says.

So now, King says, the nurses that are in schools are overwhelmed with their regular work plus the many hours of contact tracing from the pandemic. And she says there is now a shortage of nurses in general so it’s not easy to hire more for schools.

Kelly Wagner, the president of the Ohio Assn of School Nurses, says the long-term solution is to encourage more people to become nurses.

“We need to really promote nursing in general and get classes filled up at the college levels and even in the hospitals, I think there is becoming more of a shortage because of the baby boomer age and so many people retiring,” Wagner says.

In some cases, school personnel has been helping out with communication associated with contact tracing and while the nurses say that helps in the short-term, they say more nurses need to be hired and put in schools going forward.

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