When New Haven Public Schools began to reopen in January, the city needed to hire eight school nurses. It’s a goal they’ve struggled to meet.
“For us trying to ensure we fill nurse vacancies is a priority,” said city health director Maritza Bond. “We actually have twelve nurse vacancies at this time.”
There are more than 40 school nurse positions under the health department in New Haven. Historically, a handful of schools traditionally operated without a nurse. The original need for eight nurses would have filled those vacancies.
The demand for medical professionals has been high throughout the pandemic and the city has struggled finding qualified applicants.
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“This is such a competitive time now with trying to compete with the private sector,” Bond said.
The places seeing the biggest need for nurses in Connecticut are in areas where hospitals and private practices offer bigger salaries. Kathy Neelon says the problem is even closer to home.
“We’re not being paid on the same scale as the teachers. If we were in hospitals, we’d be paid quite a bit more money,” Neelon said. She is the nurse coordinator for Wallingford Public Schools, and the president of the Association of School Nurses of Connecticut.
Neelon says people don’t often realize a school nurse's job not only entails attending to sick children, but also other tasks such as tracking and collecting data, and handling individualized health plans for students. She said covering multiple schools is not ideal.
“The complexities of student medical issues these days are so much different than they were 10, 15, 20 years ago,” Neelon said.
Neelon says making the pay equitable would help draw more candidates, so nurses aren’t spread thin covering multiple schools.
That’s a tactic New Haven uses in some situations, as well as hiring nurses from temp services, and using staff from its 17 school-based health clinics to cover the 12 vacancies. Bond says they’re researching ways to attract more applicants.
“We’re looking at doing a workforce analysis of salary ranges so that we can increase and potentially be at a competitive rate,” Bond said.
She says the pay is a change the Board of Alders will ultimately have to make.