A Florida drowning-prevention initiative is expanding with the backing of powerful new allies.
Pediatricians statewide soon will become part of an effort to promote water safety — including swim education and instruction for young children — as part of the Florida Drowning Prevention Task Force.
“To have the doctors on board and distributing this information to parents, that’s huge,” said Kim Burgess, drowning prevention coordinator at the Broward County Health Department in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who is spearheading the initiative.
“As a parent myself, the only person you tend to listen to 100 percent of the time is your pediatrician,” she added. “When they say ‘jump,’ you say ‘how high?’ So in the aquatics world, this is like the second coming.”
The alliance of safety advocates, aquatics professionals, health officials and now doctors comes on the heels of a major policy shift by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Last summer, the group reversed its long-held recommendation that children under age 4 should not be given swim lessons.
Expected to begin as early as April, the program is based on a guidebook called Water Smart Babies, which was developed by the task force. It contains easy-to-understand material on the danger of drowning, safety devices and the importance of CPR and first aid classes.
But perhaps its most important element is the “Prescription for Water Safety.” This half-page cutout within the booklet is filled out by a pediatrician during a baby’s nine-month visit. It contains the child’s name and age, and directs parents to a local aquatics facility for water safety education; locations are listed on subsequent pages of the booklet.
Indeed, Florida may be ground zero for water safety. The state’s drowning rate for children ages 1 to 4 is more than double the national average, according to the state health department.
Dr. William Bruno has been instrumental in galvanizing support for the program among the state’s medical community. In fact, the South Florida-based pediatrician traveled to Tallahassee in early February to win the backing of the Florida Pediatric Society, the state chapter of the AAP.
The ultimate goal, he said, is the program’s adoption by the national organization.
“The idea is that we shouldn’t be the only ones doing it — it should be all over,” said Bruno, the pediatric medical director of Children’s Medical Services at Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Fla.
“And if we can get the AAP to do it, we’ll be all over,” he continued. “As pediatricians, all of us were frustrated by the past recommendation of the AAP. But it’s not as if we’re reinventing the wheel, and it isn’t something I’m asking pediatricians or parents to do that’s outrageous. The bottom line is that too many kids are drowning, and we need to be their advocates.”
Aided by Bruno and others, Burgess already has stakeholders in 27 counties — nearly half the state — on board. She’s optimistic the remaining 40 or so will soon follow suit.
But the booklets, and their distribution as part of a doctor’s practice, are just the beginning, she said. Broader support can assist in applying for state grant funding of everything from pool alarm distribution to extensive water-safety research, she added.