September 9, 2021
PHILADELPHIA—"Amidst a surge of the even more transmissible 'Delta' strain of COVID-19 and amidst surges in childhood infections--against the backdrop of the majority of our students not even yet eligible for vaccination--the District's nursing shortage and related failures are especially dangerous.
"This nation has, rightfully, lauded the incredible efforts of our healthcare professionals throughout this pandemic. And yet, in the School District of Philadelphia, nurse vacancies abound, leaving our young people and school communities vulnerable.
- The District is currently operating with seventeen nurse vacancies and seven nurses out on sick leave.
- Of the twenty-four uncovered schools, thirteen full time certified school nurses are filling in the vacancies.
- Eleven schools are currently without nursing coverage, and two schools are sharing a nurse.
"On any day, this is untenable and perilous. In 2013, Laporshia Massey died after suffering an asthma attack at Bryant School, then without a school nurse, a devastating tragedy that cannot ever be forgotten. The PFT along with community and elected partners, have fought tirelessly to secure the District's commitment to providing a nurse in every school building. Despite this promise, we are amidst a deadly pandemic, and thousands of students each day are without nursing services.
"Additionally, the nurses' workloads have ballooned, without additional supports, and in some cases without basic supplies, in place. In addition to their myriad regular duties, nurses are entirely overburdened with additional expectations:
- Nurses are acting as contact tracers, despite protocols requiring that this be done by Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
- Further, nurses in some schools are without COVID tests for students.
- Asymptomatic students are not being tested, despite our repeated calls for this testing to be implemented. Despite being supported by the science, by a majority of City Council members, and by $47Million in federal funding for the city, the District has neglected to implement this critical mitigation strategy that would help us keep schools open. The President is expected to further expound upon his support for this measure this evening.
- Nurses are spending dozens of extra hours each week, on nights and weekends, completing tasks to the best of their ability, but these urgent health mitigation measures cannot be left to the altruism of nurses.
"There are immediate course corrections that must be implemented:
- Proper provision of all supplies, including COVID testing
- Immediate implementation of universal student testing, with additional staffing supports in place
- Assignment of support staff to assist with day to day operation of nursing offices
- Allocation of overtime pay to address the surge in nurses' workload
"I cannot reiterate enough the urgency of this situation. We are at a precipice, and without swift remedial action, the health of our students and staff will be further jeopardized. It is unconscionable and unacceptable for the District to operate for a single day more without these desperately needed changes."