New Canaan High School Nurse Betsy Imbrogno talks on the phone to a New Canaan resident. Photo Credit: Courtesy of New Canaan Public Schools
Saxe Middle School's Upper Division Nurse Sara Paine talks on the phone with a New Canaan resident. Photo Credit: Courtesy of New Canaan Public Schools

Seniors In 'Last Years', Parents Of Sick Children On COVID-19 Calls From School Nurses Here

One man said he was lonely having no visits from family and being alone in his final years, while a parent of a chronically ill child needed guidance this week.

They were people New Canaan school nurses talked to this week when they started making coronavirus calls to local residents.

The New Canaan Public Schools nursing staff is working with the Town of New Canaan's Health Department to fight the pandemic. 

Typically they'd be attending to children, tweens and teens in the nurse's office coming in with colds, stomachaches, and headaches, but this week the calls were to adults, many elderly whose names are on social services roster list, to check on their needs.

"We've made nearly one hundred phone calls thus far," said District Nursing Supervisor Janet Reed on Wednesday, March 25 when the effort began. "It's been quite a switch, from pediatrics to the elderly."

Nurse Sara Paine from Saxe Middle School took the lead role and gathered several lists of vulnerable residents, organizing the information on a shared spreadsheet. The nurses then divided the list and started making calls.

Making assessments about safety and wellness are part of our skills,” said Reed. “A good nurse is part detective, and we gather information about their connections, supply of medications and food, and their feelings of safety and security. We want to be sure everyone has what they need and knows how to reach out for help. Some just need to know there is someone to connect with. This can be a lonely, frightening time for seniors who are alone.”

The nurses’ collaborative work with the New Canaan Health Department began Wednesday, the same day the town got results from the COVID-19 drive through testing in New Canaan from the State, according to New Canaan Public Schools. 

The nurses and Health Director Jen Eilson made calls to conduct health interviews about the results.

"Of course, our nursing experience and interpersonal skills when someone is ill are key,” she said. “We will be utilizing documentation from the State. For both volunteer opportunities, it helped that we are already BOE vetted employees with current credentials.”

Besides Reed, district nurses making the calls are Josephina Bell, West School; Elizabeth Buckner, East School; Kathy Bishop, South School; Sara Paine, Saxe Middle School, Upper Division; Joelle Graham, Saxe Middle School, Lower Division; Josephine Davies and Elizabeth Imbrogno, New Canaan High School; and Juli Sellers, Launch Nurse.

Reed stays in constant communication with all New Canaan Public School parents, and earlier this week sent a letter to the district community and staff with health updates. 

These included a reminder that local and state health departments are asking all to assume they have likely all been exposed to COVID-19 and to act accordingly by sheltering in their homes, practicing social distancing and washing hands frequently.

"We are all stepping up during this pandemic," she said. "As a community, we can slow the spread of the disease, but only if we all work together. And together, we will get through this."

Paine related some of the conversations she's had with New Canaan's older residents.

They vary from people being thankful simply to have someone check in on them, to those with immediate needs for food or for someone to drop off medications.

"I personally have spoken to one woman who wanted me to know that she has never needed charity in her life, but that she is going to need help weekly getting food since she is no longer supposed to walk into town and get what she needs," Paine said.

"Another person told me that it feels lonely to be isolated from his family in the last years of their life, but that everyone is worried about being the person who 'gave grandpa the virus'. Many commented that they feel alone and isolated."

Another woman she talked to said she felt "nervous" to talk at first because she'd been warned people are scamming elderly.

"But when I explained to her that we are school nurses working with the town, she launched into a funny story about a memory she had of a school nurse giving her shots when she was a child," Paine said.

"Most of my career as a nurse I have worked in pediatrics, and while we are still checking on students throughout the day, I have really enjoyed these calls and am happy to feel like we are helping members of the town feel less isolated."

New Canaan High School Nurse Betsy Imbrogno said her phone calls have come from community members ages 15 to 90.

"We hear everything, from a parent, sharing that their child is someone with a chronic illness who needs more guidance to get through the new e-learning/distance learning school day, to 90-year-old sharing stories from the Great Depression and needing assistance getting his or her medication/groceries."

Many she talked to said they have local family around helping them during this time of social distancing.

"We are all in this together and the sense of community is so heartwarming," said Imbrogno.