News & Events

Aug 24 09 Globe Interview: MSNO’s President Mimi Stamer: “Getting Ready for Flu” (info for school nurses and parents)

Getting ready for flu

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent  |  August 24, 2009
School nurses work on the front lines of children’s health care, says Mimi Stamer, president of the Massachusetts School Nurse Organization. With a wave of swine flu, or H1N1, expected on top of seasonal flu, the state’s 2,100 school nurses are preparing for the new school year uncertain about flu vaccine availability but bolstered by lessons from the first H1N1 outbreak in the spring. Here is an edited interview with pediatric nurse practitioner Stamer, who is director of school health services in the Needham public schools.

Q. How are you getting ready for two kinds of flu?
A. State and local health systems and schools and nurses have been planning for many possibilities, trying to get information out to parents and to school staff that is accurate and current. Many of the logistics for a vaccination program are still in the planning stages.

Q. You’ve been a nurse for 33 years and a school nurse since 2000. Have you seen a challenge like H1N1 before?
A. Probably the one thing that people refer back to and learn from was when we started to vaccinate for hepatitis B in the ’90s. Schools helped expedite a massive vaccination of school-age people.

Q. What’s different about H1N1?
A. This particular novel flu is crossing all lines. It impacts all people. With the typical seasonal flu, the hardest hit are the elderly and people with health conditions, but what we learned in the spring is that people age 5 to 18 were over 60 percent of confirmed H1N1 cases.

Q. What are you telling parents?
A. We can promote health by good hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers if no soap and water are available, and cough etiquette. We try to educate parents that it will help reduce the spread of illness if they can keep a sick child home.

Q. What about the 40 percent of schools without full-time nurses?
A. I think [H1N1] has heightened awareness about the importance of school nurses. This is just one aspect of so many services school nurses provide. About 20 percent of students have some type of chronic or complex medical condition.

Q. Why did you choose school nursing?
A. Other types of pediatric health care have their own challenges, but I would say the challenges as a school nurse supersede those. You never know what to expect when a child walks in the door. Kids may be experiencing a homeless situation or poverty or family violence. They all come to school and the other factors come with them. What motivates me is you really are the link between children’s health and their academic success.