Trish Oppenheim has been hired as the school nurse at Petersburg School District. She starts work this week. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

Petersburg School District has hired a nurse. The nurse will help oversee the district’s pandemic response including contact tracing and testing for students and staff at the three schools. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

The past year has been unlike anything the local school district has experienced before. Administrators have been tasked by the state to do contact tracing for possible cases of Covid-19 among staff and students. Some staff has also been testing students for the virus.

Playing the role of school nurse is something Superintendent, Erica Kludt-Painter, never imagined.

“You know, I don’t necessarily know what to ask about the symptoms and I’m certainly not going to give people any specific advice about what to do,” she said.

The school district has hired Trish Oppenheim as the new nurse. And the job kind of found her. She recently moved to Petersburg with her husband and son, who’s in the 6th grade. She hadn’t planned on working. Her husband, Chris, is taking over the Scandia House hotel from his mother and Oppenheim was just going to get used to the transition.

But, she says, they approached a local realtor about finding a house and it turns out that realtor, Sarah Holmgrain, was also the School Board President.

“And she said, ‘Hey, by the way, we’re looking for a school nurse’,” Oppenheim said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I didn’t really come here looking for work.’ So, she said, ‘Would you mind if I, you know, threw your name around?’ And I was like, ‘Sure’.”

Fast forward to now, and Oppenheim has signed on for 30 hours a week. She has 14 years of nursing experience, mostly in the ICU.

“I started in the NICU, which is a neonatal intensive care ICU with just tiny babies,” Oppenheim said. “And then after two years I went to the PICU, which is the pediatric ICU, and after that I was on the SWAT team (Supplemental Work and Transition), which is responding to codes and kind of floating all over the hospital for whoever needed me if they couldn’t find an IV. And then I went to the adult cardiac hospital.”

Oppenheim also got part way through her Master’s in Anesthesiology before a family illness cut that short. For the last two years, she’s been working as a triage nurse in telemedicine with Providence in Portland, Oregon.

Since Oppenheim hasn’t done school nursing before she’ll be trained for that specifically.

Before moving to Petersburg, she had visited many times before and so far, she thinks it’s great.

“It’s such an amazing community, I think,” she said. “We’ve been coming here every summer for the last 20 years; sometimes in the winter for Christmas to visit Nancy. And the last few years, I’ve been saying, ‘Let’s just move there.’ My husband’s like, ‘You won’t like it, you can’t get off the island, it’s tiny.’ And I love it.”

About a decade ago, the Petersburg School District had a part-time nurse on staff. The COVID pandemic has re-emphasized that need. Kludt-Painter says Oppenheim will be covering a variety of health issues besides COVID.

“All the things that people deal with on a regular basis,” Kludt-Painter said. “You know, allergies, asthma, heart conditions, seizures, just general support for families whether it’s talking through health and nutrition, safety. So, all the other hats that school nurses can wear in addition to COVID.”

The school nurse position will likely be funded for two to three years by a few grants. One grant is specifically for the district’s COVID response. The other is a multi-year Healthy Living Grant for getting a school nurse on staff.

Kludt-Painter says there should be opportunities for the position in the future.

“My goal would be to sustain it,” she said. “It’s been something that’s been a huge need in our district for years.”

Trish Oppenheim starts work this week. She’ll be working in all three schools, floating between the buildings.