Playground injuries, headaches, and stomach aches. During a traditional school year, these are the most common ailments concerning Episcopal students. In an atypical, pandemic school year, there is certainly much more occurring. Episcopal is fortunate to have two experienced, compassionate nurses leading the charge for health and wellness.
Alisha Fain and Katie Yankowsky have a combined 19 years of nursing experience in hospital ICUs and operating rooms. Fain’s path to nursing includes an initial major in psychology, a stint as a massage therapist and ultimately a realization that her mother’s profession of nursing was also the right choice for her. Yankowsky knew early on that she wanted to be in the medical field, so she pursued a bachelor’s degree in biology. After much prayer, Yankowsky says she realized she wanted a role with direct patient interaction, making nursing the ideal fit.
After earning nursing degrees, the two dedicated themselves to caring for some of the sickest patients. Most recently, for Fain, that meant caring for hospitalized patients with COVID-19. “I never, ever thought that I would go through a pandemic,” she says. “It was terrifying caring for those patients, but I did it.” Yankowsky says it was great seeing the support and encouragement that her fellow health care workers received. “It was nice for the community to thank them,” she says. “I don’t think you’ve ever really seen that before.”
Yankowsky joined Episcopal in August, working alongside then-Episcopal school nurse Kristie McKenzie. “School nursing is completely different from a hospital setting,” says Yankowsky, who is an Episcopal parent in addition to her role as the Lower School nurse. Even with those differences, one thing remains the same. “I still give the same amount of care.”
Before the first student arrived on campus this year, McKenzie worked with the Episcopal Health Advisory Board and school administrators to develop a school reopening plan. The Herculean effort allowed Episcopal to resume in-person classes with comprehensive safety measures in place. Now that McKenzie has transitioned to a new opportunity, Yankowsky appreciates everything she did. “I’m grateful I had a few months with her,” she says.
The new school year also saw the establishment of a Lower School infirmary and the expansion of the Middle and Upper School infirmary. Both improvements make caring for students easier. The new Lower School infirmary is a campus addition and is located in the previous teachers’ lounge. The expanded Middle and Upper School infirmary now has additional space which has certainly been beneficial this school year.
Fain joined Episcopal in November as the Middle and Upper School nurse. She feels like the school is consistently one of the first in the area to look at new health and safety information and make the necessary adjustments. She has been especially pleased with recent reductions in the CDC’s quarantine requirements. As a parent to Episcopal students Allie and Ashton she understands the challenges students and families are facing. “Quarantining kids is heartbreaking,” says Fain. The nurses have partnered with school counselors Alicia Kelly, Megan Lofland, Jodi Manton and Robin Talamo to help make the process easier. Yankowsky says while the nurses take care of the students’ physical health, the counselors assist with the emotional impact. “The counselors set up distance learning and talk to the kids while parents are coming,” she says. The partnership has worked well to help students understand what is occurring and why.
Yankowsky and Fain appreciate the collaboration that exists among the counseling team and the support of the division heads. They point out that each quarantine decision is made with much thought and consideration, with division heads even using rulers to measure space between students. “This is a team effort,” says Yankowsky. “We couldn’t do this on our own.”
Like most, Fain and Yankowsky look forward to a return to normal and a time when they’ll be able to focus on more traditional school nursing. Even with the pandemic, they are already appreciative of the opportunity to get to know their new patients. “The kids bring a lot of joy,” says Yankowsky. “It’s fun to sit and just talk to them.” They also look forward to getting to know parents and families beyond the stress of a quarantine phone call.
Recently, Fain and Yankowsky organized a vaccination drive for Episcopal faculty and staff. Everyone was all smiles as they received the first dose from the team at Gem Drugs Pharmacy. For teachers, it's been a challenging year with distance learning, in-person learning protocols and a desire to do the job they love without a pandemic. Fain and Yankowsky's efforts brought everyone one step closer to normal. We are grateful to everyone who is working faithfully to keep Episcopal students on campus. A special thank you to our health care heroes!
Share your appreciation for our nurses in the comments section below.