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School nurses in Harford County donate protective gear to support hospital workers during coronavirus crisis

Trish Schoen, right, with Harford County Public Schools Health Services hands off a box of supplies to Denise Ajello with the schools Transportation Department to be placed on the bus as school system nurses drop off items from their schools' health suite Thursday afternoon at the school system's head quarters building in Bel Air. The donations were loaded onto the school bus and driven by Tina Hockaday to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
Trish Schoen, right, with Harford County Public Schools Health Services hands off a box of supplies to Denise Ajello with the schools Transportation Department to be placed on the bus as school system nurses drop off items from their schools' health suite Thursday afternoon at the school system's head quarters building in Bel Air. The donations were loaded onto the school bus and driven by Tina Hockaday to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Angela Gottesfeld, the school nurse at Hickory Elementary School, pulled up with a trunk filled with medical protective gear, part of an initiative by Harford County Public Schools to encourage school nurses to donate their supplies and support health care workers in area hospitals as they treat patients with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“I want to support them as much as I can, my fellow co-workers, nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists,” Gottesfeld said.

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A school bus was stationed Thursday in the parking lot of the Black Eyed Suzie’s restaurant in downtown Bel Air, near the HCPS headquarters building, to receive donations. Three school system staffers greeted each nurse as they drove into the lot.

School bus driving instructors Denise Ajello and Tina Hockaday wore blue gloves, and float nurse Linda Jensen took the extra step of wearing a plastic gown over her clothing to protect herself as she carried boxes of supplies.

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Donors were encouraged to put their supplies, which were in small boxes, bags or plastic canisters, into larger containers “so we weren’t having to handle so many loose items,” Jensen said.

“We’ve had a great turnout today,” she said. “The nurses have done a fantastic job bringing their supplies.”

Trish Schoen, right, with Harford County Public Schools Health Services talks with one of several school system nurses dropping off items from their schools' health suites Thursday afternoon at the school system's head quarters building in Bel Air. The donations were loaded onto the school bus and driven by Tina Hockaday to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center the hospital.
Trish Schoen, right, with Harford County Public Schools Health Services talks with one of several school system nurses dropping off items from their schools' health suites Thursday afternoon at the school system's head quarters building in Bel Air. The donations were loaded onto the school bus and driven by Tina Hockaday to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center the hospital. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

The receivers took the supplies out while the donor remained in their vehicle, and then brought them to the bus. More than half of the bus was filled with boxes of supplies, such as gloves, face masks, gowns, hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes and other items, after the four-hour period to drop off donations ended Thursday afternoon.

Ajello and Hockaday then shuttled the supplies to University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, headquartered in Bel Air. The school system has been sharing medical supplies with the health system prior to Thursday, and the donation drive is the most recent aspect of that initiative, according to HCPS spokesperson Jillian Lader.

There have been multiple community efforts in Harford County to secure personal protective equipment, or PPE, and donate them so hospital workers, health care providers and others working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic have enough protective gear on hand.

“In this challenging time, it’s important that we come together as a community,” HCPS Superintendent Sean Bulson said in a statement.

“Our nurses saw a need and worked together to quickly find a way to support the hospital staff,” Bulson continued. “We hope that it makes a difference in their day, as we know they are working around the clock at the hospital to ensure the safety of our entire community.”

Ana Jakse, school nurse for Forest Lakes Elementary School in Forest Hill, brought gloves, hand sanitizer, surgical masks, N95 respirator masks as well as thermometers — some of those thermometers were provided to the school by the local health department, according to Jakse. The small devices could go to families that do not have thermometers, Jensen said.

“I gave what I could,” Jakse said as she talked with Jensen.

Jakse has signed on with Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps and gone through their online training program in order to support those working in the medical field during the coronavirus crisis.

“You see your fellow nurses struggling, and it hurts,” she said.

The Medical Reserve Corps is set up to provide a network of volunteers to support public health and medical workers during times of crisis, according to the MRC web page. Jensen said she has signed up for the reserve corps, too, and plans to do her training this week.

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Jensen has been with HCPS for about 16 years and also has worked in a hospital setting. She is one of two float nurses in the school system and is responsible for mentoring new school nurses and providing orientation and training, as well as filling in during vacancies. She discussed how valuable the supplies collected Thursday are for medical workers.

“Ideally, any patient that you’re caring for, you’re wearing gloves, you’re wearing some sort of protective gear,” she said.

Health care workers should “definitely” have full protective gear if treating someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, including a gown, gloves, N95 respirator and face shield, according to Jensen. She said an N95 mask is ideal for health care workers because it not only protects the worker while interacting with the patient, but the patient is protected from any illness the worker might have.

“A surgical mask is just going to protect others from anything that you may have,” Jensen said.

Both surgical and N95 masks were among the supplies donated Thursday.

Boxes of supplies from Harford County Public Schools nurses from their schools' health suites sit waiting to be delivered to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center Thursday afternoon at the school system's head quarters building in Bel Air.
Boxes of supplies from Harford County Public Schools nurses from their schools' health suites sit waiting to be delivered to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center Thursday afternoon at the school system's head quarters building in Bel Air. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Nurses keep busy

Schools have been closed throughout Harford County, as well as the entire state, since mid-March on the orders of Gov. Larry Hogan, and they are slated to remain closed until at least April 24. Harford’s school nurses have kept busy through various methods, such as studying medical literature, volunteering and staying in touch with their school’s parents and students, based on interviews at the drop-off site.

Jaske and Gottesfeld, the Hickory Elementary nurse, have been keeping in touch with their schools’ families and sending them electronic newsletters. Jaske said she has been working to educate families on health issues and encouraging them to obtain free meals that are available at various pick-up sites around the county.

Gottesfeld said she has been calling families and checking in with them, especially families of students with high-risk medical needs. She also worked with the Hickory school counselor to put together the newsletter, which is designed to give students “fun and creative things to do from a health and wellness perspective.”

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