WILDWOOD — Cindy Fritz laughs when people assume her job as a school nurse is just sitting around handing out Band-Aids.
“I hardly ever do that,” said Fritz, who since 2001 has been the school nurse at the Glenwood Avenue School. Her office includes a small food pantry, basic hygiene supplies and a rack of coats, hats and shoes.
The role of school nurse has evolved and expanded to include dealing with everything from daily asthma and allergy treatments to referring children for eye exams and dental care.
For nurses in low-income districts, health care goes beyond stomach aches and fevers.
Laura Engelmann, community health and wellness manager for AtlantiCare, coordinates a nurses’ lecture series, which is now in its 10th year and growing. In surveys, nurses are often interested in nutrition issues. Popular topics include eating disorders, mental health issues and allergies.
“The trend is connecting all of a child’s social needs,” Engelmann said. “They are really using their nursing backgrounds, but are doing social work as well.”
In low-income districts, the school nurse is often a family’s first health care provider. In Atlantic City, a nurse practitioner is part of the high school’s Teen Center.
“Kids will come in and say they haven’t felt good and their mom said to come and see us to see if they need to go to a doctor,” said Nicole DeMarco, the nurse at Wildwood High School. “Parents often can’t afford to leave work or they lose income.”
Both DeMarco and Fritz said they will keep children in school unless they are really sick.
“If parents are bicycling to a job, they can’t easily come pick up the child,” Fritz said. “Transportation is a huge issue here.”
The treatment of children occasionally extends to the parents, who may come in with a question that leads to a blood pressure check or a referral to a doctor.
The coat closet began with annual donations from the Christ Child Society. They later added hats and gloves and Payless shoe store cards. Other groups joined in to help keep the district schools stocked with items that may help keep children from getting sick.
A backpack program sends food home each Friday to a small group of struggling families.
“By winter, when families aren’t working as much, we do see them struggle,” Fritz said. “The food bank is designed to be temporary, usually at the end of the month when food stamps have run out.”
The nurses shop sales and buy the food themselves, asking families what they like to eat.
“Even poor kids want to eat what the other kids are eating,” Fritz said. “We let them come in and help pick it out so it’s more like shopping. I tell them it’s not against the law to run out of food. Everyone needs help sometimes.”