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Education and Preparedness through the Safety Store

To feel safe is a feeling that everyone wants to maintain. The feeling of security is something that is usually taken for granted and it is not until after an accident has occurred, or tragedy has struck, that we are quickly reminded of the everyday precautions we take to ensure these types of events do not come to fruition. That’s why the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Safety Education & Outreach team work to make the state of Indiana more proactive so that these disasters can be avoided.

Since January of 2005, the Safety Education & Outreach team, and their Safety Store, have been providing safety supplies and educating families on how to keep themselves out of harm’s way. Originally, the store was opened as part of a grant through FEMA to provide safety products to families with special needs children for free after passing a qualifying assessment. Shortly after their opening, the Safety Store wanted to expand their services and began selling products at cost to all families.

Becky Tamosaitis, who has been working with the Safety Education and Outreach program for the past six years, was first introduced to the Safety Store as a parent. Tamosaitis and her son, who is a wheelchair user, received the necessary tools from the store so that they could ensure that their home was safe. “I first learned about The Safety Store when we were referred to make sure we had the necessary tools to evacuate our son from our two story house in case of a fire,” Tamosaitis shared, “As a parent in a new situation, you don’t always know what you need until it may be too late. Having the opportunity to meet with someone who knew what to ask to make sure we had everything really helped us prepare for any type of emergency.” Through this experience, she has been able to provide the team with a firsthand experience of what parents and children with special needs go through. She is also able to share a unique perspective that allows her to advocate for those parents and children.

The Safety Education & Outreach team continues to see a need for their services and have been developing new facets of their program to better address the issues that are frequently affecting our community. For example, the leading cause of death for children between the ages of one and fourteen is currently accidental injuries, which is more than any other disease or illness. Indiana also has one of the highest rates of infant sleep deaths. Referrals to the Safety Store are also made to address safety equipment that should be used in the home, car seat use and installation, bike safety, electrical work precautions, fall safety, and medication storage just to name a few. Since these safety resources apply to everyone, the Safety Education & Outreach team has all kinds of information and equipment that can be helpful or even lifesaving in various situations and hopefully prevent them from occurring.

Most of the Safety Store’s referrals are from clinicians that send parents and their children to the Safety Store to avoid repeating the same action that led them to seek medical treatment in the first place. They have also received referrals from several outside agencies throughout the state of Indiana and have even been contacted by individuals from Alaska and Germany that have sought their guidance. That being said, the goal of the Safety Education & Outreach program is to increase awareness of their safety products and provide educational resources to the community so that when an unfortunate situation occurs, we can become more proactive instead of reactive.

Cara Fast, the Director of the Safety Education and Outreach program, commented, “People generally don’t think something can happen to them until it does. People know these commonsense safety rules, but don’t apply this advice until after something happens. We are teaching people to be proactive with their own safety and that of their loved ones. Good safety practices are habits that should last a lifetime.” Fast and her team are working to educate not only children and their families, but all age groups on how to be safe. With education, these instances are typically preventable when taking the right precautions because accidents can happen to anyone. Safety is applicable to people of all ages; thus, the Safety Store hopes to develop their services so they have a significant impact on the people of Indianapolis outside the walls of the hospital where they are located.

Fast has been with this program for sixteen and a half years, arriving only a few months before the Safety Store first opened. She has always had a passion for helping children and families, which led her to obtain her Bachelor’s degree with a focus in child and adolescent development. Her Master’s degree and experience in social work, as well as her work as a child-life specialist, have helped her better understand the needs of the patients that she now works with daily. It has also helped her to learn how to address the ever-changing needs of the community.

Those needs changed due to the unforeseen circumstances of the pandemic. COVID-19 unfortunately led to the Safety Store closing to the public for several months for the first time in 16 years, but the Safety Education & Outreach team saw this as an opportunity to find new ways to provide services to the city of Indianapolis.

The Safety Store has adopted new practices such as scheduling virtual educational visits, curbside pickup for purchases, and opening a phone helpline for those who need education or guidance. Even though the new launch of the phone helpline occurred in mid-March of 2021, the team has already taken over 100 calls, but are sure that number will grow as more people come to learn about this resource. The team is also currently working on providing pop-up safety stores at local events to sell products and promote their work in the community. The Safety Store is taking appointments to see families with current medical appointments at their location in Riley Children’s Hospital and hope to return to opening to the general public once COVID-19 becomes less of a factor.

Another way the Safety Store is growing their reach is by utilizing social media. Just before the phone helpline went live in March, the team created a Facebook and Instagram account so they could find an inexpensive way to market to a broader audience and target a younger demographic. Tamosaitis and Fast agreed that many people now consume their news through social media so this is a great way for them to connect with the community and an efficient way for them to share their education materials. Fast expressed, “The Safety Store has been around for 16 years and people still don’t know we are here or what we do.” The implementation of using these virtual platforms will let the community know the Safety Store is here and how they can help. You can find these pages using their Facebook and Instagram handle @IUSMSafetyStore.

All this work has led the Safety Store to become a national model and trainer for other children’s hospitals throughout the United States who seek guidance on how to emulate their program. Even with all the great work that is being done, the Safety Education & Outreach team believe they can help more people as long as they continue to grow their following through social media and increase their presence in the community once COVID-19 restrictions are reduced. The team has shown their flexibility to adapt to the needs of community and will continue to push their practices forward to keep people safe.