Healthy Living

It is likely that many of the estimated 10 million campers and the more than 1 million staff members who oversee youngsters in summer camp will experience an illness or injury in a given season.

The camp health center

Although most kids suffer only minor headaches or embarrassing falls during a baseball game, these ailments and injuries are usually “dusted off,” and do not necessitate medical attention.

However, the majority of health problems at camp are sent to the camp medical center–the hub of treatment and triage. Such “centers” are not the large, multidisciplinary institutions often found in urban communities. Rather, they are relatively small facilities that usually provide medical services ranging from tending to scratches and homesickness to dealing with life-threatening emergencies that mandate immediate attention and referral to a more sophisticated off-site hospital.

The terminology can be baffling. The camp medical facility–variously referred to as a health-center camp, dispensary, first-aid station or undoubtedly other names–is not to be confused with an off-site hospital emergency department. It is important that campers and staff understand the appropriate designation for their own camp.

Camp directors need to initially decide the size and purpose of the camp health-center building based upon several variables. These include the level of care that the camp is capable of and willing to offer, the distance from more sophisticated medical attention, the types of activities that pose risk, the skill and training of the medical personnel and the population being served.

For example, are the children and staff generally well, or does the camp deal with special needs, such as diabetes mellitus or disabled children?


The camp health center, as we will refer to it henceforth, is a physical structure of varying size that basically consists of a reception area, treatment rooms, a few beds and storage areas for equipment and drugs.

It should be located in a convenient and central area accessible to emergency vehicles and to the entire camp, especially the sports facilities and bunks. It should also be well-lit and easy to access in the middle of the night in the event of a crisis, especially given the limited outdoor lighting of most camp settings.

To avoid any confusion–especially late at night–campers should be informed of the location of the center on the first day. It is also recommended that camp leaders, counselors and activity instructors notify the center by walkie-talkie when an injured victim is on the way to the center.

Ideally, the building should have sufficient and flexible space paralleling the total number of potential users, particularly in the reception area. No one needs to be reminded of the swine flu epidemic that struck so many camps during the summer of 2009.

Planners of new or renovated facilities need to keep in mind that during “sick call” as many as 5 to 10 percent of the camp population may be present for evaluation. The clinical area requires an open space that allows for initially evaluating campers’ illnesses and injuries while protecting their privacy; a contact area for telephone calls to parents; and ample storage areas for computers, charts and paperwork.

Throughout the health center, locked storage space that protects drugs, supplies and equipment from non-essential personnel, the elements and unwanted forest critters is a necessity.

Private examination and evaluation space needs to be sufficient to handle the usual number of patients for a more extended evaluation and triage preparation. A space should be provided for applying ice to musculoskeletal injuries, soaking injured parts for cleansing, and enhancing the overall health process.


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