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2012 Health Care Champions Honoree: Debbie Barnes

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Debbie Barnes is candid about what lured her from working in a hospital to becoming a school nurse.

“My kids were school-age. It really was so compatible for my kids’ schedule. I was doing it more for my family,” Barnes says. “I went into it not having a clue knowing what school nursing was about.”

Little did Barnes know, she was right at home professionally. “When I got into it, I just fell in love,” she says.

In the 15 years Barnes has worked as the school nurse for Ozark High School, she’s seen a lot more than bellyaches and bruises. Often, Barnes says she finds herself trying to assist in meeting students’ basic needs, such as food and clothing.

She considers her role as threefold: as an advocate, educator and encourager. Daily tasks include performing health screenings, referring students to health care providers, communicating with parents, and acting as a liaison between parents and doctors. She’s also stepped up in unique circumstances, such as driving a senior student to visit a college near St. Louis and raising $800 from Ozark faculty to return electric power to the home of siblings.

Barnes says she’s witnessed many changes during the arc of her career. Due to demanding schedules, parents and children more recently have a hard time connecting. “You’ll talk to a parent and they haven’t seen their kids in a day or two because their schedules are so out of whack,” Barnes says.

Parents also seem to be more transparent about the struggles they face. “It seems nowadays, kids are fully aware of the hard things families are going through and they bring those worries to school with them – behaviorally and physically – because they aren’t ready to cope with those kinds of issues,” she adds.

Among the unique challenges her patients face are teen parenting. “That’s a biggie. I love working with our teen parents,” Barnes says.

Barnes says meeting their needs can be a challenge, but she’s fortunate to have access to help.

“I have such a great pool of resources to draw from,” Barnes says. “Local doctors, the pharmacy, Kiwanis Club, eye doctors, the Smile Center – we have so many resources to meet those needs. That helps us take care of those kids.”

Among those resources is Care to Learn, a charitable organization that provides assistance in getting children the basic items they need to thrive in school. Barnes serves as the site coordinator for Care to Learn in Ozark.

Now that she’s found a home, Barnes says she plans to remain in her position until retirement.

“I just love being around them. I’m kind of partial, but I think I’ve got the best kids around,” she says.

Click here for full coverage of the 2012 Salute to Health Care.


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