In 1998, a group of older adults from United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County (USOAC), a longstanding senior advocacy group, went to the county administrative officer looking for information on what was being done around fall prevention at the county Department of Public Health. The answer was that very little was being done. Unfortunately, all the money for county injury prevention programs was coming through maternal and child health programs leaving no staff to devote to senior injury issues. At the time, Colleen Campbell was the County Trauma Registry Manager. Although her experience was mainly in child safety, the Director of Public Health asked her to represent the department in the meeting with USOAC. After this meeting, Colleen looked back in the trauma registry, and ran a number of reports. What she found on fall incidence rates left her absolutely flabbergasted.
With the authorization of the Director of Public Health, Colleen began researching fall prevention programs nationwide. At the time, she found only a few home safety checklists. However, the research coming out of Yale University, Canada, and Australia was promising. In order to learn more, she requested permission to attend an international fall prevention conference in Canada. Nate Miley, the Executive Director of USOAC, who was also an influential city council member, supported her request to attend. At the conference, she met Jon Pynoos and other cutting-edge researchers in the field. The information from the conference and research from Mary Tinetti pointed squarely to the effectiveness of a multi-factorial approach to preventing falls, emphasizing physical activity, home modification, and medical management.
Colleen had established monthly senior injury prevention meetings with USOAC and other stakeholders. At one of the initial meetings, the Director of the County Area Agency on Aging attended and agreed that injury was an important problem for his constituency. He expressed concern about getting involved in a flash-in-the-pan group and could only offer his support if there was a guarantee of stable leadership around senior injury prevention. The director of the public health department recognized that changes were needed and moved Injury Prevention from Maternal and Child Health to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS)Division so seniors could be included in efforts. EMS established the Alameda County Senior Injury Prevention Program (SIPP), with full-time coordination provided by Colleen. SIPP went on to develop California’s first community senior injury prevention coalition and now organizes an annual statewide senior injury conference.
Keys to success in establishing the Senior Injury Prevention Program in Alameda County:
- Senior advocacy organizations can play a major role in the establishment of new public health programs
- Strong local data makes the most compelling case for action
- Having a political champion opens doors for your fall prevention cause
- Continuous leadership commitment is crucial to the establishment of strong local programs