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The school nurse will see you now

Additional nurse, new systems help school district's students stay healthy

There's a new addition to the team, and now that she is up to speed and the rest of the district's health services department has gotten comfortable with the paperless student-tracking system, everything is moving faster, according to Sue Barrie, the district's most senior nurse, with 31 years at the district. Local elementary and middle school students are receiving better care than they ever have before, she said.

"It's made such a difference," Barrie said, referring to the addition of both nurse Jennifer Thornton and the new digital system, InfoSnap, to keep track of the medical needs of students.

Before Thornton came on last October, the district's medical staff had been reduced to two full-time nurses and an assistant, which left the nurses scrambling to accomplish their daily routine. Even after Thornton was hired, there was a learning curve, Barrie said, and it took a while before everything was back on track.

New nurse

On a recent afternoon, the Voice caught up with Thornton at Bubb Elementary School -- one of the four schools she covers for the district.

She sat at a circular table with second-grader Mikel Tamura, 7, and took a dab of blood from his thumb and put it on a small, hand-held device that measures blood sugar. She then calculated how much insulin to give the boy, who was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year.

Thornton was unhurried, taking her time with Mikel -- who was at firstbashful to do this thrice-daily routine in front of a reporter and a photographer -- reassuring him in a soothing voice.

Mikel pricked his own finger for the reading, and in a few more years he will be able to administer his own insulin, Thornton said. Eventually, Mikel will learn to do all of this by himself, and it's Thornton's job to teach him. On a normal day, when the press isn't around, she might have worked with him more closely, explaining how she measures his blood sugar and then performs calculations to see how much insulin he requires.

Before she joined the district, Thornton was a public health nurse, living in the area and commuting to Merced. She said she was glad to leave the long drives to the Central Valley behind. Thornton is also pleased to be working with children.

"I love it," she said of her new position. "The kids are great," and the position also keeps her on her toes. "You have to be ready and in the moment to handle any kind of situation."

Digital records

Though the school district has been using the new InfoSnap student registration system for about three years, Barrie said it has taken a while for her and her colleagues to get an advantage out of the system. Lots of data had to be entered into the system manually from the paper files before InfoSnap helped to save time.

"It was a daunting task," Barrie said. "It seems like it is really working for us."

Now, when parents register their kids online, they are asked to include information about food allergies and other medical issues the children may have, like a heart condition.

El Camino Hospital

Hiring Thornton and third district nurse Jaime Saxena, was made possible by a grant from El Camino Hospital, Barrie said. Five years ago, before El Camino provided money for two additional school nurse salaries, Barrie was the only nurse in the district.

The money the addition of the two Thornton and Saxena has benefited the health services program greatly, Barrie said. "What we were able to accomplish was very limited compared to where we are today."

According to Barrie, 100 percent of all seventh graders had been given their immunizations by the end of the first week of school -- a process that took two to three weeks last school year.

Working more efficiently means that the nurses have more time to train teachers and staff on CPR and First Aid. This year, 46 staff members have been trained in CPR -- more than double the 22 who received training last year. It's important that teachers and other staff be trained in CPR, Barrie said, since a child who is choking or a child with a food allergy going into anaphylaxis doesn't have time to wait for an ambulance or school nurse to arrive.

In an effort to improve the health services program further, a focus group has been formed. The Student Health Issues Committee will examine the growing number of students with food allergies, the increased concern over concussions, as well as strategies to combat diabetes in local schools.

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