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On the Front Lines: Kelli Morton lives passion every day at Hartselle City Schools

Photos by Rachel Howard and contributed

When Kelli Morton began her career in the healthcare industry, it was vastly different than the position she now holds as the lead nurse for Hartselle City Schools.

Morton was working as a nurse educator for Brookwood Baptist Health in Birmingham until her husband Neal accepted a job in Huntsville, moving the family to the Tennessee Valley. She said they chose to plant roots in Hartselle in 2017 because of its size, proximity to both Neal’s job and Birmingham and the school system. She said she has never doubted her career choice; she declared her nursing major as a freshman at UAB.

Beginning as a substitute school nurse after their move, Morton said she prayerfully considered the move to her current position when it became available. “I truly felt like God’s hand had guided my path, and in January 2019 I accepted the position as Hartselle City Schools lead nurse,” she said.

Hartselle City Schools – with its reputation of excellence – being one of the reasons the family decided on Hartselle, Morton said being a part of HCS is surreal. “Every day I get to, not have to, go to work, and I work with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” she said.

This school year has been unlike any other, one she calls “interesting” and one that has taken her back to her roots in a hospital setting in more ways than one.

“School nursing, in general, is very different from hospital nursing,” she said. “As a school nurse, we function very independently and are responsible for making sure students are cared for in a way that allows them to be successful in the classroom. This can involve anything from providing a daily ADHD medication to having an emergency medication readily available for students with seizure disorders or diabetes. However, this year I have found a unique connection back to hospital nursing.

“I find myself in a fierce protective mode,” she explained. “We have worked hard to protect our faculty, staff and students from COVID-19 – particularly those who are high risk. In addition, we are in a position where we are responsible for slowing the spread in the community so that our fellow front-line workers are not overwhelmed. As we learn of the stress our hospitals are facing, we are even more determined to enforce the guidelines set forth by Department of Public Health and CDC so that the level of transmission in the schools does not negatively impact our community.

“We are very much public health nurses and have locked arms with ADPH in the COVID-19 fight,” she added. “In addition to assessing potential COVID-19 cases and identifying those who are close contacts to the virus, we are responsible for providing the most up-to-date information to our faculty, staff and students. We work hard daily to be sure everyone has the tools they need to slow the spread within the classroom.”

For Morton, doing what is right and having integrity is her passion.

“Integrity is my passion and has always been my battle cry, but I’ve seen integrity take on another form this year,” she said. “I am so thankful for people who have dedicated their lives to science, and I’m thankful their research and dedication has provided us with information on the right thing to do to save lives. So, right now, integrity means not only doing the right thing but doing what it takes to save lives – even if it’s hard and inconvenient.”

Morton leads a team of six school nurses in the district to care for the faculty, staff and students of Hartselle City Schools. She said she is honored to be able to work with and for the people of HCS.

“These nurses are selfless and 100 percent dedicated to the health and safety of all Hartselle City School children, faculty and staff. It has been such a joy to see these ladies thrive in their roles this year,” she said. “I already knew that working as a team is essential in accomplishing goals, but this year, I learned that the words in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 are truer than I ever realized. I can do hard things, but with others, those hard things become more bearable,” Morton added.

Her Bible passage of inspiration states, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

“When we all come together with a common goal, we are all better because of it,” Morton said. “In the midst of what will go down in history as one of the most challenging years ever, we have been able to keep our students safe and healthy. – and because of the steadfast efforts of our teachers and parents, we have seen them grow academically.”

The Mortons have been married since 2004, and the couple have three children: Lanie Mae, 14; Hudson, 11, and Jake, 6, who are all students in Hartselle City Schools.

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