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Health on Wheels

By Kristi Birch

On any given day in Baltimore City, three children will be hospitalized for an injury caused by burns, falls, poisoning, fire, cars, guns or choking.

All these things are preventable, yet unintentional injuries are the number one cause of death of children ages 1 to 14 in Baltimore. Reducing these injuries is the mission of the new Johns Hopkins CARES Mobile Safety Center (MSC), a house-on-wheels that hit city streets this summer. On the MSC, parents can learn about home safety and buy low-cost safety products such as bike helmets and baby gates for staircases.

The Bloomberg School’s Center for Injury Research and Policy created the MSC in conjunction with the Baltimore City Fire Department, which has long had a free smoke-alarm program.

The 40-foot safety center has a kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom, all with interactive exhibits. The front burner of the stove turns stoplight red if you put a pot with a handle on it. If you open the medicine cabinet, a skull and crossbones appears on the mirror and a haunted-house voice tells you to keep medicine cabinets locked. Dawona Young, the MSC’s health educator, can test your knowledge of fire safety by asking you to place magnets on a floor plan of a typical rowhouse where smoke alarms should be installed.

By taking its act on the road, the MSC expands the audience for the Children’s Safety Center (CSC) at Johns Hopkins Hospital, created by the School’s Center for Injury Research and Policy in 1997. “We’re trying to improve access by going out into the community and working with pediatricians to tell people to use this,” says Eileen McDonald, MS, CSC program director and a faculty member with the Injury Center.

Another CSC innovation is a “Prescription for Safety” pad that enables doctors to literally write a prescription for parents to visit the safety center. A prescription pad will be in every exam room in Hopkins Hospital’s East Baltimore Medical Center, where the MSC spends three days a week as part of a three-year evaluation funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other days, the MSC will travel to schools, churches, other clinics and community events.

The Injury Center is already planning a replication guide that other organizations can use to design their own mobile safety centers.