Nurse and Veteran

Veteran and Nurse Kempton Served Country, Now County
Posted on 11/08/2021
This is the image for the news article titled Veteran and Nurse Kempton Served Country, Now CountyCaring for “my kids” at Westview and ensuring that school nurses in the county have what they need when they need it is Beth Kempton, a Vietnam-era veteran who has devoted over two decades of nursing care to the students of Weakley County Schools.

As Veterans Day approaches, Kempton, who served in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy Reserve and now fills the roles of Supervisor of Nurses for the schools as well as nurse at Westview, says she takes pride in her military service.
“It’s helped me in my whole life,” she noted. “Makes me a better nurse, better person, better everything.”

Kempton went from her home in Worcester, Massachusetts, directly out of high school and into the military. She spent five years in bases in Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and her home state as first a medic and then an operating room technician. Since she did not yet have her degree, something the military would later make possible, and only RNs went to the battlefield, she now makes the distinction of calling herself a Vietnam-era vet.

However, no such distinctions existed when it came to what she saw and experienced as thousands of young adults returned to the United States in need of medical treatment.

“I spent 40 days without a day off,” she remembered. “Even though I wasn’t on the battlefield, it was pretty intense.”

And the reaction to a person in uniform at the time was not what it is today, she concurred.

“We got treated very poorly. We had to travel in uniform at that time and I was actually spit at in an airport in San Antonio,” she said. “But now, finally, Vietnam-era and Vietnam veterans are getting the respect they so well deserve. I’m very pleased to see that.”

Eventually, Kempton gained experience as an Emergency Medical Tech and worked in all areas of nursing – psychiatric, surgical, hospice, private duty, and newborn.
She laughs as she points out that as a school nurse in a high school, she sees days when “it’s all the roles rolled into one. Some days I’m a psych nurse. Some days I’m an emergency technician and other days I’m the mom.”

Kempton actually set up the program she is now trying to keep fully staffed. She was the first school nurse for the county traveling from “Palmersville to Greenfield” and all points in between. Scheduling a school each day and equipped with a beeper, she got an overview of health in rural Tennessee.

Initially, she was the one finding problems because of screenings and being, often, the only medical person a child might see. A child who had been frequently short of breath was discovered to have asthma, for example.

Soon, with more chronic illnesses being identified and a rise in Type 1 Diabetes, the need for more nurses became clear.
Within a year, Kempton started to slowly add help. The county has been fully staffed with fulltime RNs and LPNs for a decade, but a new need has emerged.

In the last several months, substitute nurses have been hard to find. The pandemic and a competitive market are making securing the typical pool of five to six nurses available to fill in as needed very difficult.

“It’s been tough. If one of our nurses is out, we have had to double up, with one nurse at Dresden Elementary and Middle for example, while the other goes to cover the school in need,” she said, adding that the strain adds stress to what has already been a stressful year.

Usually, the fall and winter months mean dealing with strep and flu season in addition to ensuring medications are dispensed on a regular schedule and first aid is administered after a cut or fall. Health and wellness promotions for both students and staff are also a part of school nurse duties.

But last year and 2021 have proven to be far from usual. COVID-19 has meant nurses had to learn and follow a new protocol for dealing with children who showed signs of the virus while at school. Assisting with contact tracing and listening to students dealing with having been sick, quarantined, or facing a loved one’s sickness and loss has become the new normal.

Kempton praises all the Weakley County Schools nurses for their dedication to the job, and as a result, wants to recruit a more substantial safety net so that they can take the days they need to care for themselves or family without worry or guilt.

However, the nursing shortage means lots of open positions in the area are going unfilled.

“They want fulltime positions and we may not need them every day,” Kempton explained. “When their current employer gets word that they may be leaving, they then get the salary they want, the benefits they want because these employers out there are doing whatever it takes.”

Kempton notes the substitute role is great for RNs and LPNs who may be retired or who are parents who want to have the same hours at work as their school-aged children.

While she cannot guarantee a core number of hours per week she can assure candidates that “every day is different.”
“You make a difference. When you go home at night, you know you’ve made someone’s day a little brighter,” she said.
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