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School nurses support fellow nurses at Bel Air, Forest Hill Health and Rehabilitation Centers with lunch during Nurses’ Week

A group of Harford County Public Schools nurses and some staff from the Forest Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center move the many boxes and carts loadded with food and drinks donated by a host of local businesses inside the building for the staff at the Forest Hill facility Friday afternoon. The group of school nurses came together and collected doantions from a host of local businesses to provide lunches for staff at the Bel Air and Forest Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers in honor of Nurses week last week.
A group of Harford County Public Schools nurses and some staff from the Forest Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center move the many boxes and carts loadded with food and drinks donated by a host of local businesses inside the building for the staff at the Forest Hill facility Friday afternoon. The group of school nurses came together and collected doantions from a host of local businesses to provide lunches for staff at the Bel Air and Forest Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers in honor of Nurses week last week. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Amy Garrison, who serves as a school nurse at Churchville Elementary School, started working in the nursing field in the early 1990s at the Bel Air Health and Rehabilitation Center.

More than 25 years later, she and her fellow Harford County Public Schools nurses visited the facility to show support to the nursing staff there by providing lunch. The nurses at Bel Air Health and Rehabilitation, as well as similar facilities around Maryland and the U.S., have continued to provide care for residents in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The school nurses’ visit last Thursday, as well as another visit to Forest Hill Health and Rehabilitation Center the next day, happened during National Nurses’ Week. The national celebration of nurses began last Wednesday and ran through Tuesday, coinciding with birth of famed nurse Florence Nightingale on May 12, 1820.

The delivery of lunch to the nurses at the health and rehab centers included sandwiches from Chik-fil-A, soda, bottled water and snacks, plus balloons and flowers from the Giant, Safeway and Wegmans supermarkets and fruit from Edible Arrangements. Cookies from Subway were an additional treat for the Forest Hill staff.

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“Our staff was ecstatic to see the community support,” Patricia Tyson, director of nursing for the Forest Hill facility, said Monday.

The outreach during Nurses’ Week “really cheered up our nurses, so it was amazing — we’re all very grateful,” she said.

The idea for the lunch drop-off came about as school nurses “had time to be able to give back to other nurses in our community,” Garrison said Thursday while at the Bel Air facility.

Schools have been closed in Harford County for in-person instruction since mid-March, the same as public school districts statewide, to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. Schools will remain closed to students and staff through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.

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The HCPS nurses felt their visit to the nursing facilities “would be a great opportunity to give to other nurses in the community, working on the front lines against the coronavirus,” Garrison said.

She worked at Bel Air Health and Rehabilitation from 1993 to 1994, until she had to move to Germany. Her husband, who was in the Army then and has since retired, was deployed there. Garrison has been with HCPS for the past 11 years.

The Bel Air and Forest Hill centers offer services such as skilled nursing, rehabilitation therapy, care for patients with dementia, plus long-term residential care, according to their web pages.

Garrison said working at such centers can be “very rewarding” but difficult, too, as there is “a lot of work to be done.”

“You connect with the patients and their families, and that’s what makes it worthwhile,” she said.

COVID-19 impacts

Residents and staff at both facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. The parent company, SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services LLC, announced more than 45 cases, including two fatalities, at the centers in mid-April. The Maryland Department of Health began tracking nursing homes cases shortly after. The latest data, from May 6, shows 134 resident cases, 12 resident deaths and 42 staff cases related to the coronavirus between the two facilities. The state updates nursing home numbers at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays.

The coronavirus struck despite multiple protocols to prevent the spread of the illness, such as frequent sanitizing of the facilities, restrictions on visits to residents and health screenings for staff at the start of their shifts. Sava has posted information on its website about how the company is responding to the pandemic, which has hit nursing homes around the U.S. especially hard, as older adults and people with underlying health issues are at greater risk for contracting COVID-19 and dying from it.

Nurses and other staff members were decked out in personal protective equipment at the Bel Air facility Thursday, including masks, hair coverings, face shields and gowns. Banners and signs had been placed outside the buildings, honoring nurses and marking Nurses’ Week.

Giving back, boosting morale

The fact that nursing homes “have been hit very hard” by COVID-19 was a key factor in the school nurses providing lunch to their colleagues at the health and rehabilitation facilities, as well as a desire to give back during Nurses’ Week, according to Kim Bandy, of Meadowvale Elementary School in Havre de Grace.

“We wanted to make sure that we did something for the community,” Bandy said.

Deanna Johns, of Edgewood High School, described it as “nurses supporting other nurses.”

Elissa Heck, administrator for the Bel Air center, said the show of support during Nurses’ Week “means the world to our residents, to one another, to our company, to everybody involved.”

“You have to give people extra credit during these times for not only coming to work, but coming to work with a really positive, upbeat attitude,” Heck said.

There are about 160 staffers at the Bel Air facility providing an array of services in addition to nursing, such as housekeeping, dietary, conducting activities for residents, social work and administrative — “everybody plays a role,” according to Heck.

Nurses and nursing assistants work “side-by-side” to provide clinical care to residents, such as administering medications and other medical treatments, plus emotional support, according to Heck.

“They are almost, at times, an extended family to the residents that live here, especially now that families can’t visit,” Heck said.

Staff at Forest Hill became discouraged after news of the COVID-19 cases at their facility was reported online and some people made negative comments about the situation, according to Tyson.

“It became discouraging for the staff, knowing how hard they’re hard they’re working every day with the fears related to COVID-19,” she said.

Spirits are getting a boost, however, as the school nurses and other community groups show their support, plus many staff and residents who had been afflicted by COVID-19 are in recovery, according to Tyson.

“To have that positive community support is very encouraging for all of the nursing staff,” she said.

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