Sharon Stinson’s voice on the telephone is momentarily overwhelmed by a toddler’s cry.
Stinson, the lead nurse of Coffee County Schools, has been at her second job — grandma — since schools closed on Wednesday in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“A few Goldfish will cure anything,” she said after calming down Bryson, who is 1½. Bryson was the only grandbaby visiting on Friday, but he’s not alone. Carter and Case are boys and Kersey is the girl. All four are under the age of 2.
If that sounds crazy, consider the last three weeks for anyone in any position at any Alabama school.
“I’ve been an RN for about 40 years and we’ve never encountered anything to this magnitude,” Stinson said. “It is uncharted waters for everyone.”
Coffee County Schools Superintendent Kevin Killingsworth said something similar during the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.
“As you know, we don’t have any protocols for what we’ve been dealing with,” Killingsworth said on Wednesday. “Our attendance Monday was 46 percent system wide. Yesterday it went down to 18 percent. That’s why we went ahead today and allowed just the teachers and staff to come in. We had a lot of loose things to tie up before we leave school.”
Stinson said it was a tremendous team effort to prepare for a closure that wasn’t ordered by Gov. Kay Ivey until late on Friday, March 13.
“I just want to compliment the entire team of the Coffee County School System because we could not have accomplished anything we did in such a short period of time,” the nurse said. “The team was the backbone of everything. They were enormously involved on a day-to-day basis. As you know from watching the news, it changed daily — and sometimes a couple of times a day.”
The team. Stinson referred to “team” or similar concepts 15 times in a 15-minute telephone interview. Killingsworth knows his team rose to the occasion, too. But every good team has its share of all stars — and the superintendent made it clear that his school system had Nurse Sharon Stinson.
“I’ve got to thank a lot of people for all the things they’ve been doing beyond the call of duty lately,” Killingsworth told the school board. “One that’s really stuck out, that’s really done an excellent job … is nurse Stinson, our lead nurse.
“Nurse Stinson’s been ordering supplies, ordering materials for over two weeks now. She’s stayed on top of it. She’s been training with our employees, our teachers, on how to disinfect the schools, protocols, procedures. She has ordered the masks, the gowns, the gloves, the goggles and the disinfectant that’s recommended by CDC.
“The nurses themselves are mixing all the disinfectants because they have been trained to do so by protocol. I want to thank all the nurses, but especially nurse Stinson. I’ve called on her numerous, numerous times in the last two weeks to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect our students and our staffs and the folks on our campuses.”
Informed that Killingsworth had great things to say about her at the school board meeting, you could practically hear Stinson cringe through the phone.
“We had a lot of key people,” she said, noting that the superintendent’s leadership and guidance was key. “Had he not been at the helm and trusted his other people to provide information and respond as quickly as we did, we couldn’t have accomplished what we did in such a short time.”
She said it actually started about three weeks ago, when Coffee County Schools started developing a plan that always was in accordance with guidelines provided by the CDC and the Alabama Department of Public Health. Now, some days it was a moving target because those guidelines were changing frequently. But the early start was key, Stinson said.
“I think one of our biggest attributes was we jumped on this early. Three weeks ago, we met and developed a pandemic response plan,” she said. “With that plan, we brought in all the local administrators. I helped to develop the plan. I helped draft it up, but it was with the help of each school’s administrators, the superintendent, the transportation director, our nutrition program director, we had board members involved, and we also involved our local EMA early on.
“We had support from so many different individuals. That’s why I need to emphasize that this was a group, a team effort. Everybody was on board and it was all hands. Every respective department came together to accomplish this.”
She said Killingsworth gave her a simple directive. “He said, ‘You purchase whatever it is CDC is requiring us to purchase. Find it, purchase it, we’re going to support all CDC guidelines,’” she recalled.
“We were able to — and it was daily and it was a struggle — but we ended up going to local vendors to purchase all of our supplies, as opposed to some national contracts or Amazon, the big box stores,” she said. “We were able to use our local vendors Southeast Pharmaceuticals in Elba, Enterprise Paper and Janitorial and Jones Medical Supply in Troy.
“Those are the three vendors we were able to acquire to all of the recommended disinfectant, the specific gloves we needed, the disinfecting sprays, wipes, all of our supplies came from those three local vendors. And their own staffs went above and beyond, too, to help us accomplish what we needed for our students. So when I say team effort, it was from a lot of angles.”
Two weeks ago, the nurse at each of the schools provided all of the faculty with disinfecting sprays, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizers and tissues so they could begin two weeks ago disinfecting their work areas.
As things got more serious, that plan expanded.
“We started developing training programs early on, and each local school nurse had a very important role to play in the training,” Stinson said. “We had mandatory faculty meetings that included teachers, our CNP — that’s our nutrition program — it included our transportation. All of our bus drivers were trained. We had special training for custodians. Everybody had a role. We met with all of them in a very short amount of time.
“I gave them some information — this is what we’re looking at, this is what we’re dealing with and this is what we’re going to do moving forward. We gave each one of them a plan. Everybody had a part to play, including the administrators at the local level, all the principals.”
Stinson trained the nurses on the safety data sheets, the information for the disinfecting supplies. She also trained them on how to mix it. It is a highly concentrated solution and the nurse on each campus was the only one authorized to mix it, so they knew they had the right concentration to dilution.
The “cocktail” is called Halt. Stinson purchased it through Enterprise Janitorial.
“It’s just a very comprehensive disinfectant. It’s a germicide, bactericide, fungicide, virucide. It’s hospital strength,” she said. “Each nurse on every campus took the lead in mixing that solution and providing every faculty member, janitor and bus driver with it.”
She called Wednesday “uplifting,” to see everyone totally on board.
“They wanted to do their part. When we left Wednesday we knew we were leaving our rooms and our buildings in the best possible shape we could hope for,” Stinson said. “It was a team effort from our superintendent to every teacher, every bus driver disinfected their own bus. Custodians. Everybody did their part for us to be able to shut it down in such a wonderful manner.”
She said the nurses embraced taking the lead in the area of Infection Control.
“We wanted to provide accurate information that we hope, in the long run, would provide some calmness in the midst of this storm,” she said. “And just to reassure people we work with every day that we’ve got this. We’ve got this as a school system. Our team is working every day towards the long term goal of coming out on the other side of this in a few months better than we were.”
As good as that amazing effort felt, something was missing on the day of the shutdown.
“We didn’t really get to say goodbye to our children, our students,” Stinson said. “We had planned on the children being here Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. From an educator’s standpoint, we didn’t get to reassure them enough that this is going to pass, that we’re all going to be able to come back together at the end of the year. Our children are our family — our home away from home.”
Stinson is the Coffee County School System’s lead nurse, but she also has been the school nurse at Zion Chapel for the past six years.
“This is my home,” she said. “I was born and raised here. I graduated from Zion Chapel. It’s personal.”