Even though city officials have made strides to create safer conditions for students and teachers in New York City as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage of nurses looks to further add anxiety to the parents of the city’s 1.1 million public school students.
A critical part of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plan to restart in-person classes was to fulfill a request by the United Federations of Teachers Union: a school nurse in every building. On August 13, 2020, Mayor De Blasio promised to ensure that each public school would have a certified nurse on staff. At the time, the plan was to work with New York Health + Hospitals to contract nurses to work in 400 schools. Nevertheless, even with this strategy, city officials were still facing a shortage of 400 RNs as of August 1, 2020.
A Significant Concern
Since then, Mayor de Blasio has sought the help of the city-run Health and Hospital Corporation. The group has helped to decrease the deficit to 150 nurses. While this development is encouraging, there is significant concern that city officials will not reach the nurse staffing goal by the new reopening date of September 21. According to the New York Post, the Department of Education is hiring a roughly steady rate of 63 nurses per week. If this hiring pattern holds up, city officials will be 25 nurses short of their goal by reopening.
The nursing shortage in New York City is neither a new issue nor a situation unique to them. The New York Times reported that less than 40 percent of schools had a full-time nurse on staff before the pandemic. Additionally, in the fall of 2019, nearly 700 schools in New York City went some or all of the day without a school nurse on site.
With less than two weeks left until the new restart date, contract agencies are ramping up their efforts to attract nursing professionals. A quick search for school nurse positions on Indeed revealed positions offering between $45 and $50 an hour, while a few other job descriptions were labeled “Urgently Hiring.”
However, while the push is on to fill the shortage, Councilman and Chair of the Education Committee, Mark Treyger, expressed concern that the nursing staff deficit could be larger than 150 since some employed nurses have received medical exemptions for this upcoming school year:
“They promised 400 more nurses, but the number is still fluid. In my district, I am told one of my schools, their nurse was granted a medical accommodation, so it’s very likely the number of actual vacancies have increased.” Treyger said.
Is Proper Training The Next Issue?
In addition to higher than expected vacancies, New York City schools are also facing the issue of training. Contracted nurses will only participate in a four-day training session instead of the six-week training required for nurses hired by the city. Some city nurses have expressed how important it is for nurses to undergo the six-week sessions as the instruction can give them the tools to manage the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Everyone from teachers to city officials is managing the obstacles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the next two weeks unfold, the clock is ticking for Mayor de Blasio and his staffing teams to mitigate parent’s and educators’ anxieties by ensuring every school has a nurse on staff.