Johns Hopkins Doctor Provides Expertise to Advise School’s Health and Safety Committee

Patterson Park Public Charter School forms committee of parents and staff to ensure students, staff and families’ health and safety.

When Joann Hunsberger, M.D., M.S., and her husband were searching for a Baltimore home 10 years ago, they knew they wanted to live in the community near where she worked at The Johns
Hopkins Hospital.

“I didn’t want to just serve a community, I wanted to live in the community where I was serving and to be an active part of that community,” says Hunsberger, an assistant professor of pediatric anesthesia and pain medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Now Hunsberger is a mother of three school-age children who attend Patterson Park Public Charter School (PPPCS). The couple chose the school because of its focus on the child as an
individual as well as its commitment to community building.

When schools closed suddenly on March 13, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff and parents were unsure what the future would hold. During the spring and summer of 2020, the highly contagious coronavirus brought much of the world to a halt.

In August 2020, PPPCS formed a Health and Safety Committee of parents and staff at the recommendation of Baltimore City Public Schools. The committee’s goal is to research best practices and preferred vendors for items necessary to ensure students, staff and families’ health and safety. It also makes recommendations to the school administration to guarantee that PPPCS is ready to operate safely when in-person instruction resumes. The committee supports the administration by being stewards of health and safety protocols, ensuring that all health and safety recommendations are completed and in-place when in-person instruction

The committee meets every other week, and PPPCS executive director Jane Lindenfelser says she’s grateful for the group.

“We recognize that we’re not public health experts so we’re so thankful that members of our school community have backgrounds in health and communication. They help inform what we’re doing and make sure we’re making the best decisions for our community,” she says. “This has been a time of a remarkable amount of uncertainty, and the fact that all of these individuals raised their hands to say they’ll help the school figure this out means the world to me.”

Hunsberger was one of the parents who raised a hand to contribute to the committee.

“I volunteered because I thought that my medical and practical experience as a pediatric anesthesiologist in the operating rooms, on the airway team and in the ICU during the first wave of COVID last spring might be useful to the school community,” Hunsberger says. “I was able to speak about what measures we were taking at the hospital to keep providers and patients safe, and help translate that into something we could use at school.”

Hunsberger joined the face covering and screening subcommittee and contributed to the communications committee.

“I was impressed that PPPCS reached out to the school community, looking for our thoughts and opinions about how we could safely return to the school still fall on the shoulders of the PPPCS administration, but hopefully having this committee as a resource will help the school administration, staff and students to feel safe when returning to in-person school.”

Hunsberger worked with her committee to secure 400 masks for school supply distribution from Medicine for Greater Good, a Johns Hopkins Medicine organization that trains and educates medical residents in bridging the gap in health disparities between the hospital and the community. She also helped obtain a donation of nearly 100 Clear Masks so that little children and children learning English as a second language will beable to see the faces of their teachers better.

The committee has been challenged by not knowing exactly when city schools will be back in session. Deborah Mattera, PPPCS’ business manager, says the school is working hard to procure appropriate supplies for when that does happen.

With the committee’s recommendations, Mattera has ordered paper cups and water bottles because health and safety guidance dictates that students will no longer be using water fountains. She has purchased plastic storage totes for students to store their belongings, face masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, thermometers, cleaning supplies, desk shields and Chromebook-safe alcohol wipes. Mattera also procured face mask lanyards so when students have mask breaks for lunch and drinking water, the lanyards will keep the masks attached to the students.

“Community members have really come together to solve these problems,” Mattera says. “Joann was one of our steadfast reliable volunteers. She did not hesitate to give us her time and talent.”