IRON MOUNTAIN, Mich. (WZMQ) – In Dickinson County, the Iron Mountain School District has two registered nurses on staff. With the start of the school year right around the corner, the nurses, Cookie Brooks and Rachel Hautamaki, are discussing emergency readiness and immunization compliance at the school.
When it comes to emergency readiness, the nurses are taking the responsibility to train teachers and support staff, ensuring that there are enough staff members trained in each of the school buildings to prepare the school to respond to an emergency within minutes.
“We want parents to know that we are ready for emergencies here, we really strive to work with a team of teachers and staff that are ready to respond to emergencies,” Brooks relayed.
There two nurses are part-time, but they ensure that there is always someone available daily to respond to all of the students’ medical needs.
“We have two locations, and we switch back and forth, and there’s daily someone at the high school. There are shortened hours when we have a split day, for example, we might be here in the morning and at North Elementary in the afternoon if only one of us is on staff that day. But most of the time there’s two of us,” informed Brooks.
The school nurses are proud of their status when it comes to cardiac emergency response, and with the number of buildings that the two nurses serve, it’s an impressive achievement.
“For heart safe schools, we have to prove that our schools are ready for a cardiac emergency. We have AED’s ready to go, so that we can respond to that sort of emergency within minutes. We do drills, our goal is to be what we call drop-to-shock within 3 minutes. We’d like to be faster than that, and we usually can, depending upon the location,” announced Brooks.
The drop-to-shock drills are timed, and the nurses have a plan to drill the school staff at North Elementary including teachers and support staff before the first day of school. There is a group of about 12 people who are currently certified in the training. The high school has a bigger staff, and the nurses are working on organizing a training day to accommodate the larger staff population of the high school as well.
The school system has at least 6 AED defibrillators, according to Brooks. There are AED’s in all 4 of the school’s Gyms, including the east gym, which is the Iron Mountain Community Schools building that handles the homeschool partnership.
That doesn’t mean every single staff member is trained, but it does mean that there’s a team ready, so that if there’s a medical emergency, enough staff members are trained that there is always a certified and trained staff member to respond. In addition to supplying the homeschool partnership, the nurses consider facilities where the public school students gather as well.
The nurses’ consideration of emergency readiness extends beyond the classroom facilities, to include extracurriculars, and they consider situations for students who might be more vulnerable in an emergency situation, like students suffering with underlying conditions, or something unknown.
“We have a team trained to tackle medical emergencies at North Elementary, here in the high school building, and in the Izzo-Mariucci center. We have an AED also in the central gym where we have the cafeteria. And we have one down at the stadium. So there’s one in the coaches room down there. Usually at a football game there’s an ambulance as well,” informed Brooks. She added, “Soccer games, that AED is portable, so if they feel the need to take it to practices or anything else in town that they might need, sometimes we have heart kids involved in P.E. or kids that are prone to collapse or seizures,” Brooks explained. In those cases, the nurses plan to keep a portable AED within a closer range to students.
The nurses have a plan for regular drills to maintain emergency readiness, and have a plan in the works to facilitate a more real-life drill when the students are back and actually in the school buildings.
“At least at one of the schools we’ll be doing drills during their professional development days before school starts, with the aim to hopefully do one while the students are in the building sometime during the year. Just so the students can know, yes we’re ready, we can handle an emergency. And they know what to do,” stated Brooks.
The Iron Mountain School District also has cards that tell people which phone numbers to call for which specific emergency. Those cards are located around the building in every bathroom, on every floor, and near every phone.
“If you call the office, then they’ll get on the PA, tell the team what to do. The thing with emergencies is you can plan and plan, and the actual emergency is never exactly like what you plan,” explained Brooks, but that’s not stopping the school nurses from making sure teachers and staff members have an opportunity to be trained.
“Both Rachel and I are going to be able to teach CPR classes, and AED classes to any of the teachers that need to be trained,” Brooks informed.
As the students prepare to make their way back into the classrooms and extracurricular spaces, the nurses consider what parents need to know about medical readiness.
The school nurses want parents to be ready with the proper forms when it comes to in-school medication. If students have a medication that needs to be administered at school, they need to have a signed form dropped off to the school, for example an inhaler or epi-pen.
The nurses are positioned in-between immunization compliance by the state, and the wishes of some parents of students. They want all students to be able to attend school, but there is a growing concern about a lack of funding when school resources are already spread so thin.
“We’re also required by the state to track immunizations. So the state requires certain immunizations of the children, or a waiver. Some of our funding depends upon that. So when we start sending letters to people who don’t have their immunizations up-to-date. It is important that they either get those done, or get a waiver done in the health department. And we will keep badgering them because we have to have a high percentage of compliance in that area in order to get funding. And every dollar counts at the school,” explained Brooks. She added that waivers are available to any family that does not wish to have their child vaccinated.
“Anybody can get a waiver for not getting certain vaccinations. But they have to do it at the health department. It’s required by the state that they go to the health department, they listen to their speech, sign the paper, and then they’re done,” explained Brooks.
Registered nurse, Rachel Hautamaki chimed in,
“If it’s a non-medical waiver, they have to go through the health department. A doctor can do a medical waiver if there is a reason they can’t have an immunization, but if it’s just some other non-medical reason, they have the health department give the education, they have to have it signed by the health department. Because some people have medical reasons, and some people have a preference.,” Hautamaki clarified. “We have to abide by the state’s rules,” she added.
Brooks further clarified that the nurses want all students to be able to attend school, stating, “We’re not judging people for not getting their immunizations. We want all the kids here. The state wants us to exclude children that aren’t. ” With the school being state funded, the nurses explained that the state mandates in Lansing from state lawmakers, and the governor who are handling the mandates and rules determines what the school district has to abide by when it comes to compliance.
“We get the rules, and then the health department calls us regularly, letting us know if we’re only at 90%. We need to get more,” explained Brooks. She added, “We’re the middle-man, and we can’t do anything about it. Just, here’s where you’re at, this is what we need,” Brooks remarked.
Hautamaki shed more light on the subject adding, “I think it’s an important thing to talk about, because we don’t want to exclude anybody, we haven’t had to do that, but that’s kind of where they put us, if we don’t get the compliance”.
It’s a frustrating position for the school nurses to be in when it comes to funding, and the currently available school resources. Brooks added, “It’s a considerable amount of money, and that is how the school is funded. We don’t get money from anywhere else. Now that the state has control of the public school, that’s how it’s funded. So they can get rid of 5 or 10 percent of the school’s income,” noted Brooks. And subsequently, this means the school and staff get considerably less resources if the nurses don’t get compliance with regard to student immunizations. With public school resources already being strained, the nurses have to get compliance in order to help the school’s funding to pay for expenses, including salaries.
“We’re short on everything, teachers, supplies, space,” Brooks expressed.