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Empowering School Nurses to Fight the Pandemic

Toni Pederson, RN, BSN (in photo, above), was one such health professional facing a an extended layoff. A registered nurse employed by the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut (VNASC), she supports the health needs of K-4 elementary students and staff in East Lyme Public Schools.
“I went to school so parents could pick up their children’s medications,” said Pederson, a member of our affiliated VNASC union. “My employer announced there would be a testing facility at L+M Hospital, and they asked if we could staff the facility,” she added.
Pederson and several members were hired to screen for COVID-19 at a new drive-through testing center established at the acute care facility in New London. Both the 280-bed hospital and the VNASC are owned and operated by Yale-New Haven Health System (YNHHS). The temporary assignments were the product of union leaders’ efforts to engage facility management and network administrators in negotiations to find a mutually agreeable resolution.
“It is a great example of solution-driven unionism,” said VNASC Union President Ann Ryan, RN. She added that the effort “shows how collective bargaining empowers members to apply our faith, strength and willingness to work together — the union way — to get everyone through this.”
Click here for press coverage of L+M’s new test site featuring the school nurses’ role.
Before they could begin screenings, Pederson and fellow school nurses were trained to put on and take off their personal protective equipment (PPE). When they have to come in contact with patients, they are covered from head to toe in a disposable protective suit and wear respirators and plastic face masks.
At the site, there are usually two nurses on each shift responsible for administering swab tests to those who have been referred by a doctor and have an appointment.
Click here for additional photos of Pederson and a fellow member at the site.
Pederson explained that patients get out of their car and go into a tent to be tested — a nasopharyngeal swab that takes about five seconds. “The ‘clean’ nurse greets the patient in cars, and the ‘collector’ nurse wears the suit,” she said. Both also hand sanitize and double-glove with each new patient.
The swab is secured and taken by a laboratory tech — members of our affiliated L&M Federation of Technologists. Most patients receive their results in five days; because health professionals are at the highest risk, theirs are expedited.
Pederson is now working three or four days a week in the afternoons at the drive-through site, which is getting busier and reflecting a more diverse patient population. 
“The first week, we saw mostly elderly and patients in their 40s and up,” said Pederson. “This week, I tested a 17-month old.”
Click here for additional reporting on VNASC union members staffing L+M’s test site.
Like many healthcare professionals across Connecticut, nurses at drive-through sites are experiencing some PPE shortages. 
“We have to be conservative and very careful,” said Pederson. “We are not wearing the yellow gown anymore, and we have to re-evaluate what’s more important to cover.” 
Reflecting a growing trend towards rationing, Pederson added that “the biggest change is that I have a face shield that is mine for the duration. I sanitize it daily.”
Click here to support AFT Connecticut’s new statewide PPE supply drive.
According to Pederson, the L+M testing site is a well-oiled machine and helps to relieve the anxiety that many patients are feeling. “They are scared. You can see it in their faces. We’re all anxious,” she added.
While Pederson worries about possibly spreading the virus, she said she appreciates being actively involved. “It’s always in the back of mind when I think about my family.” She added that “while I’m glad to be able to do this, I hope the virus is defeated soon so the facility and testing won’t be needed.”
Click here for AFT’s round-up of coronavirus resources, which is continuously updated.
Affiliated union members in Connecticut can also access information and material relevant to their employment sector here at our state federation’s website. The latest updates are linked to the main page (in the horizontal menu above) for each of our five divisions.
Editors note: includes contributions by Adrienne Coles, AFT.

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