The Injury Prevention Department sits in a beautiful old home caddy-corner to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. The home is filled with banners and a few car seats used for training purposes to educate people across the state about vehicle safety to fulfill the Injury Prevention mission to “reduce the number of unintentional injuries in children and adolescents in Wyoming.”
“We run classes in varying places in the state. After the week-long class, attendees are certified car seat technicians,” said Stephanie Heitsch, Injury Prevention Coordinator. “The class typically consists of first responders and nurses, but is open to anyone who is interested in saving lives.”
Car seat safety is not only taught in a classroom, as the department provides one-on-one education every Friday morning to teach parents how to properly install car seats.
“We don’t install them ourselves at the car seat inspections,” Heitsch said. “We’re here to educate, so we show the parents how to install them. That way, they know how to do it when they’re on their own.”
Injury Prevention is fully funded by grants, including three large grants and multiple smaller grants. Two of the large grants are funded by the Wyoming Department of Transportation for child passenger safety, highway safety and safe communities, which cover impaired driving, occupant protection and seatbelt and car seat safety.
Another large contributor is the Wyoming Department of Health, which provides a large grant for the Safe Kids program. The Safe Kids program covers unintentional injuries for kids, including fall safety, fire safety and home safety.
The Injury Prevention department has a small staff of only three, but the team carries a large responsibility in the community and is the state office for Wyoming.
“We have 15 coalitions and partners across the state that report back to our office with all the activities they’re doing and then we report back to Safe Kids Worldwide in Washington, D.C.,” Heitsch said.
The staff work diligently each year, not knowing if the grants that fund them will be available the following year.
“I write the grants each year, so we sit on a bubble wondering whether or not we’re going to get the grant,” Heitsch said. The program began with one small $3,000 grant and has now increased to $500,000 to use for advocating for community safety.
In addition to receiving grants from the Wyoming Department of Health and Wyoming Department of Transportation, State Farm also contributes a yearly grant for auto safety. Kohl’s is a former contributor to Injury Prevention, but now contributes to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center Foundation, which is the fiscal agent for all Injury Prevention grants. Injury Prevention also receives support from Cheyenne Regional Medical Center by providing a facility space, IT support and assistance with utilities.
“We’re really thankful to the Foundation and CRMC. All our funds are overseen by the Foundation, and we receive assistance from the accounting and marketing departments,” Heitsch said. “In return, we benefit the hospital by providing community outreach.”
Community outreach is one of the biggest objectives for Injury Prevention, regardless of the event.
“We always look for opportunities to get out in the community. Even if it’s not an event we typically go to. Community events are where we can make a difference,” Heitsch said.
For example, in just the past few months, Injury Prevention was present at Wyoming Brewer’s Festival and Farm to Table to educate attendees about the importance of vehicle safety.
Providing vehicle safety information is important to our community as vehicle fatalities have increased in Wyoming in the past year. As of June 30, 2017, there were 66 vehicle deaths, up from 44 in 2016. Of those 66 deaths, 34 were unrestrained passengers and drivers and 19 were alcohol-related.
In addition to vehicle safety, poisoning and fall safety are also priorities. Although fall safety in itself is a vast topic.
“In Wyoming, it’s difficult to pin down a definition of what a fall is. It could be a fall from a piece of playground equipment or a fall from a horse. However, when we look at the data, most of the falls do happen at home, such as a fall down the stairs,” Heitsch said.
Even though the department is never quite sure if it will have the opportunity to continue with this program from year to year because it is grant-funded, Heitsch said they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The best part about being part of this team is knowing that we do make a difference,” she said. “We have had people come back to us – whether it’s through our training or our car seat inspection stations, but they have told us that they’ve gotten into a car crash and their child hasn’t been touched. There’s nothing better than that.”