“It’s not just Band-Aids and ice packs,” says Pam Ziolkowski, RN (Registered Nurse), manager for the School-Based Health Center in the United Community Center (UCC). “School nurses are much more than that.”
Ziolkowski is a school-based nurse at the UCC, which hosts a collaborative partnership between Carroll University and Bruce Guadalupe Community Schools. She treats students from a holistic standpoint, acknowledging the many dimensions of health in a school setting.
Sonia Pacheco, RN, works alongside Ziolkowski to serve approximately 1,800 elementary and middle school students. “We want kids to be healthy, so they can be in school and learn,” Pacheco said. “And we are here to help facilitate that, no matter what it looks like.”
Although Band-Aids and ice packs are certainly part of their work, Ziolkowski and Pacheco find themselves playing a critical role as liaisons between parents and healthcare providers. A lot of the students that they treat have chronic illnesses like asthma and diabetes, along with other disorders – which fall more under the category of mental and behavioral health.
Pacheco says that school nurses deliver crucial health and wellness information that would otherwise not be communicated to students’ parents – or their primary care doctors. However, since the onset of COVID-19, both Ziolkowski and Pacheco felt their focus shift dramatically, leaving little room for the provision of typical levels of care. In just one week, they received 700 phone calls from concerned parents.
“During the pandemic, we have been stretched,” Ziolkowski said. “However, as nurses we adapt to whatever is needed in order to assure students’ health needs are met.”
Like countless other healthcare professionals, the nurses needed to pivot their focus to COVID-19, and at the same time learn a new operating system so that they could create electronic health records to fit their community needs. Ziolkowski and Pacheco were also required to attend virtual contact tracing classes from Johns Hopkins University to become certified COVID-19 contact tracers for the UCC.
In addition, they worked collaboratively with the Milwaukee Health Department to stay abreast of the ever-changing policies related to COVID-19, so they could communicate that to the school administration. Ziolkowski and Pacheco worked tirelessly to communicate with families to ensure they received correct and up-to-date information.
“Nurses are trained to respond to disasters and emergencies, but a pandemic – at the magnitude of COVID-19 – is unprecedented,” Ziolkowski said.
According to Dr. Teri Kaul, chairperson for Carroll’s nursing department who oversees the School Based Health Center, Ziolkowski and Pacheco are the unsung heroes. “It’s incredible what Pam and Sonia have been able to accomplish to keep this community safe throughout the pandemic,” said Kaul. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate all their hard work and dedication to make a difference in the lives of the children in the community they serve.”
The UCC School-Based Health Center also serves as a clinical placement site for our nursing students, where they can learn about the school-based RN role and skills needed in a school setting. The UCC is also home to Carroll’s new Associate Degree in Nursing
(ADN) program, which helps underrepresented students become a RN in less than two years.
“The nursing students love this clinical site, caring for the children at the school,” said Dr. Kaul. “The students, at the direction of the RNs, have created and developed several health-related projects during their rotations, which has had a major impact on the health outcomes of those who attend the school and live in this community.”
Recently, the nursing students participated in a vision screening for more 1,067 students, and they identified 91 students who needed follow-up with the eye doctor. “Ziolkowski and Pacheco are significant role models for our students.” said Kaul.
Ziolkowski tells the students, “If you have the passion to become a nurse, you have to trust the decisions that you are making and use your voice as a healthcare professional. Stick with your choices and move forward.”
As Ziolkowski and Pacheco continue to reflect on lessons learned throughout the pandemic, they share one big learning: if someone is trying to tell you something important or offering to educate you, it’s a good idea to listen.
To learn more about Carroll’s partnership with the UCC, visit www.carrollu.edu/nursing.