Why Lowell should hire another nurse

Lowell’s nurse Vanessa Compagno has about 30 to 40 students visit her office every week. She is the first medical responder to medical injuries for approximately 2700 students and 200 faculty members. However, she is often occupied with many other tasks, including staff meetings and special support for students with chronic illnesses. These staggering numbers call for additional medical support from the school district.

Compagno is essentially a Wellness Center staff, but she has her own separate space and provides different services than the Wellness Center. While the Wellness Center connects students with reproductive care and campus and community resources, Compagno provides medical treatment for students with chronic illnesses and physical injuries.

In addition to providing first aid for injured students, Compagno attends meetings to support students who require accommodations and those with special health needs. Students who have health impairments or chronic illnesses pay regular visits to the nurse. At the beginning of the school year, the nurse meets with students who require special attention to do a health assessment that creates an Individualized Education Plan, which includes important information to ensure their safety at school. If a student has diabetes or seizures and requires medication or tube feedings, Compagno refers to their IEP to decide the best treatment for them.

On top of these visitations, Compagno is often called to the field by injured P.E. students. Most injuries include common wounds like cuts or lacerations. Once in a while, the P.E. Department staff have students who experience overexertion or have a broken bone and “need more care than a [P.E.] teacher can provide,” P.E. teacher Terence Doherty said. As her attention is in high demand from different areas of school, the nurse is unable to tend to all of the physical injuries from the P.E. department. “It’s great to have the nurse here on campus, but that doesn’t always happen,” Doherty said. Most of the P.E. teachers are trained to perform first aid for injured students, but they only have a basic first aid kit for the entire department and don’t have access to a lot of materials that the nurse has access to.

Because the nurse is not always available, many students turn to the Wellness Center to address their immediate needs. Although the Wellness Center is a reliable resource when the nurse is absent, the Wellness Center is closed every Wednesday and every day during 5th block, which leaves students unattended. In addition, there are limitations on treatments that Wellness staff can offer because they are not medical professionals, but therapists and social workers. “If a student is having a panic attack and things like that, [Wellness staff] can obviously provide emotional support and basic first-aid as well, but they’re not necessarily an alternative,” Compagno said.

All SFUSD high schools currently have only one nurse, and some middle and elementary schools don’t even have a nurse, according to Compagno. “Other [schools] that do have nurses, that one nurse is often split between a few schools, which makes it really hard,” Compagno said. “[That’s] really challenging because you’re only at one school site like once or twice a week. How much can you really do as a nurse if you’re split?”

Compagno would love another nurse on site to help her out, but she recognizes that the lack of district funding poses a roadblock. “Not all schools can have nurses because of funding,” Compagno said. “There’s a lot of technical, legal stuff that I don’t really know or understand.” The Lowell contacted Mary Jue, SFUSD School Nurse and Supervisor of the School Health Programs for an interview, but Jue was not available to comment.

Despite the various challenges that currently prevent the Lowell administration from hiring an additional nurse, Compagno hopes that another nurse will be hired in the near future. “It’s a lot of different hats to wear,” Compagno said. “It’s hard to manage. I really wish we could have one nurse that went to all the meetings and then one nurse that could just be here taking care of students with health needs or injuries. That would be the dream.”