Grand County School District nurse Mary Frothingham was honored with a Utah Silver Syringe Award, given to an “individual or community organization that demonstrates exceptional dedication to immunizations” by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

“Mary Frothingham is one staff member of GCSD, but the difference she makes is HUGE!” said Grand County School Superintendent Taryn Kay. “Through her work with immunizations, she ensures all students are better able to attend school because they are sick less.”

One of Frothingham’s first projects was tackling the mammoth job of modernizing the district’s vaccination records. She quickly noticed that some local families had children with exemptions for some vaccines but not others.

After she spoke to these families, she found that many of these families were not opposed to vaccinations, but simply lacked access to some of their vaccinations due to lack of funds or transportation. Mary worked with these families to get them the resources they needed to get their children vaccinated, ultimately increasing the number of immunized, healthy children in the Grand County School District. 

“For those of us who are insured, vaccines are completely free as part of preventative health care,” said Frothingham. “But if you’re uninsured, there’s a $15 administrative fee for each vaccine.” 

That fee was the difference for many families, it turned out. A local donor provided funds for vouchers families could use to get free immunizations for their children and change was obvious. 

“I had families that I’ve been after for years and once they had the voucher, it was done the next week,” Frothingham said. “The vouchers made a big, big difference.”

The immunization voucher program costs just around $1,000 a year to provide access to a basic way for families to protect their children. 

“In the scheme of things, that’s not a lot of money. But that’s a fair number of vaccines and a fair number of families that are using it,” she said. “It’s a relatively small amount of money that can make a huge impact for our whole community.”

The Southeast Utah Health Department and Moab Regional Hospital have been important allies in the effort, as well, working to ensure that families with transportation issues are still able to access the care. 

“Through her work every day with students, [Mary] ensures they are heard and healthy,” said Kay. “She is truly invaluable.”

Frothingham is passionate and emotional when she talks about the work of school nursing and the impact that it can make.

“School nurses support the overall health and safety and well being of the school community, and individual students with healthcare needs, but it can also be much broader and include health interventions you might not think of,” she said. Her work includes vision clinics for students, organizing a bereavement group for students who have lost family members, and she dreams of an oral health program for Grand County students. 

Frothingham’s award shines a light on the importance of school nurses on the front lines of healthcare, promoting health and wellness in our communities. She’s passionate about her work and has big dreams for the future, imagining more school-based programs for oral health and substance abuse screening, and hoping to secure more funding to make these programs a reality. However, Mary recognizes that every effort can make a big difference in the lives of her students.

“It’s just asking the question and trying to identify what the barriers are,” she said. “If you don’t give up on the kid, sometimes you can find really surprising solutions to help support them.”