Get Involved in Prevention

The following story is fictitious, but based on a true story about public health in Arizona.

Arizona is known for its hot, dry summer months.  Even in winter the average temperature doesn’t fall below 50.  Given a long season for summer activities, it is no wonder why so many options for swimming existed within communities.   In addition to pools at community centers, country clubs, and apartment complexes, many homes were also equipped with large pools.  It was 1986, and I had planned to meet with three families and others about the high rate of drowning in Phoenix, particularly among younger children.  The meeting had been convened by staff at a community center; the community wanted to know “what the Public Health Department could do to prevent kids from drowning,” the staff member had said.

I had not prepared myself for what I heard.  The first family started by holding up a picture of their 3-year-old son, named Jacob.  Jacob was, like most toddlers, curious.  It was his curiosity about the big floating blow-up fish in the sparkling water of his neighbor’s pool that drew him to the water’s edge. His lifeless body floating in the pool  was found by his grandmother who was watching him during the day while his parents worked.  Jacob’s story was followed by 4 other families’ accounts about the drowning death of their own child.  I was overwhelmed.  I could see why the community had become desperate for answers.

I carried the information back to my superiors, who prompted an information request on drownings by age across Arizona, Phoenix, and the U.S. in general.  These data, once retrieved, reflected a clear and consistent problem that had to be addressed:  too many young children were dying as a result of drowning.  A community assessment of resources, gaps, needs went into effect across 8 of Phoenix’s neighborhoods.  The issue was clear–no barriers around pools to prevent toddlers from wandering in.  Immediately, the group launched a community education campaign regarding pool safety and launched their legislative agenda to change community ordinances/state law about fences or other barriers around bodies of water.  Following a successful campaign, in 1991, legislators passed a comprehensive bill to require pool owners to establish a safety barrier around their pool.  As a result of the comprehensive efforts, child drownings in Phoenix went down by 60% (a 20-year low from 21.3 to 5.8 per 100,000).

PREVENTION WORKS!  – Since 2004, substance abuse rates among youth have consistently been going down due to the organized efforts of the county coalitions.  Get involved in prevention initiatives by attending a coalition meeting in your county (See County Coalitions along the top navigation bar on the home page!).    Engage also in our regional initiatives.  We meet quarterly for training, networking, and  organizing region wide initiatives to maximize the impact across the eight counties of the NKY Region.  These meetings are held in March, June, September and December, on the 2nd Tuesday of the month!  Email bhedrick@mhankyswoh.org for more information.  Or, fill in the following contact form: