Celebrating our Nurses in a Year Like No Other

Celebrating our Nurses in a Year Like No Other
Posted on 05/11/2022
Nurse Appreciation Week

Chelsie, a South Milwaukee junior, is a regular in the High School Health Office to keep an eye on her blood pressure. It only takes a moment for Nurse Nikki to put on the pressure cuff and her stethoscope before Chelsie heads back out the door and on to her regular school schedule. Moments earlier, however, another student was feeling terrible and was brought in seated in a wheelchair to have her blood sugar checked. 

Nurses’ offices in each of the district’s six schools see regular visits like Chelsie’s and illnesses like the student in the wheelchair. The school medical staff work with them on top of managing student health plans, coordinating doctor-prescribed medication, and tracking and managing Covid cases. In a year like no other, District Nurse Supervisor Stephanie Cahlamer said her staff of four registered nurses and eight health aids have logged 21,000 visits this school year. 

Cahlamer, who is new to the district, is a board certified critical care registered nurse that concurrently works in the cardiac ICU at Children's Hospital. She is also an Emergency Medical Technician, a Firefighter and recently was a Flight Nurse. She’s seen it all, and like medical staff country-wide during the pandemic, her South Milwaukee staff are going above and beyond to keep students healthy and in school.

“They are busy all of the time,” Cahlamer said. “It’s a lot of putting out little fires everywhere.” 

Helping students navigate Type I diabetes - the kind children are born with - is one critical job the health staff focuses on. There are many students with seizures, medication dependent and accidents or emergencies throughout the day. Students start the year requiring full assistance with their conditions, and with education and training, the students begin to learn how to care for their own medical needs. 

“We struggle seeing non-compliance due to lack of resources or education. Many students are in a hard spot at home and trying their best to do it on their own, all while navigating the social struggles of school with COVID mixed on top of that. ” Cahlamer said. When they slip up or are overwhelmed with managing a complicated disease, they end up in the nurse’s room. 

This year the nurses have the additional task of managing the impact of the pandemic in South Milwaukee schools. 

”There’s a lot more coordination - communication and policy and protocols,” Cahlamer said. “The goal is to keep students in school and keep them safe at the same time.” 

One of Cahlamer’s staff is responsible for tracking students with the virus, and notifying upset and sometimes angry parents when their students are unable to return to school until after quarantine. Parents are frustrated for good reason. This is a tough time for everyone.

“We try our best to help families who are dealing with a lot,” Cahlamer said.

Many times, the nurses’ office is where social or mental health concerns are identified. Cahlamer and her staff work with teachers whose students appear regularly in the nurses’ office to identify extra support to help keep them in the classrooms.

“The nurses and aides are amazing with the students and the kids trust them. Many times students come in just to talk about what they are struggling with or what they don’t feel comfortable telling anyone else,” Cahlamer said. “There’s a very high number of anxiety and depression issues. A lot of times we see it here first.” 

Depending on the severity, her staff will coordinate with District psychologists and counselors to help the student. 

“Of course, some things can be fixed with an ice pack, a bandaid or a hug like the traditional ‘school nurse’ role is thought of. But it is so much more than that.  Honestly, before I came here I had no idea everything that was involved in school nursing. I am so impressed by my team and how much they care for these kids. The kids, the district, the community and I are so lucky to have them,” Cahlamer said.