Friday, July 10, 2009

Joe’s Take: Nurse Pappas to the Rescue!

I attended the Flu Summit at the National Institutes of Health yesterday, where the main take-away was “Prepare for the Worst!” (Read details here.) No one can tell with certainty the extent to which the H1N1 virus will strike in coming months, but as President Obama told the delegates during a phone call from Italy, “the potential for a significant outbreak in the fall is looming.” He called for “vigilance and preparation.”

Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius (HHS), Janet Napolitano (DHS), and Arne Duncan (ED) all addressed the summit, and a panel of governors participated via video link.

But perhaps the most engaging presenter was Mary Pappas, a school nurse at St. Francis Prep in New York City, the first school hit by the flu outbreak last spring. Attendees listened intently as Pappas recounted how she triaged the scores of sick and scared students who sought her care when the flu first erupted -- scared because they had arrived at school healthy that morning only to suddenly develop symptoms later. Pappas, who eventually sent home 102 students that day, enlisted the assistance of other school personnel to take temperatures and record the results on a sticky note stuck to each student’s uniform. With just a single phone line in her office, Pappas commissioned students to use their own cell phones to find parents. The nurse then informed each parent of the child’s condition.

The key to handling the emergency, said Pappas, was staying calm and relying on her experience and training as a medical professional. (Quick thinking and ingenuity also played an obvious role.) Her effectiveness and expertise have earned her new respect among students, parents, and administrators. Preparing for the next possible outbreak, she counsels students to stay at home if they’re sick, cough into their arms and, when they come upon a strange substance, "If it's wet and it's not yours, don't touch it."

“Every school should have a nurse,” said Pappas. The crowd agreed with vigorous applause.

(Posted by Joe McTighe, CAPE's Executive Director)

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