UK HealthCare

Safe Kids, KCH celebrate 30 years of keeping Kentucky’s kids safe from preventable injuries

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image of safe kids van parked next to bike training course
image of three people at table with blue tablecloth that says "Safe Kids Fayette County"
Image of firefighters with teens standing in front of a fire truck
image of woman and young girl holding a sign that says "I'm a safe kid" at car seat inspection event

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 10, 2023) — For Sherri Hannan, the coordinator of Safe Kids Fayette County, the mission is clear.

Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in children. Every year, 8,000 families lose a child because of a preventable injury. Millions of children are injured every year, often seriously enough to affect them for a lifetime. Many of these injuries and deaths are preventable.

“There are so many things we can’t protect children from,” Hannan said. “But if we can, we should.”

Too many caregivers don’t have access to the information and resources they need to keep their kids safe from tragedies such as drownings, car crashes, fires and falls. Health care providers in Kentucky saw the need for information that was not only backed by data and evidence-based research, but accessible and deliverable on the community level.

In 1993, when plans were underway for a dedicated children’s hospital in Lexington, UK HealthCare, then known as the University of Kentucky Medical Center, signed a contract with Safe Kids Worldwide to create a local coalition to serve Fayette County.

Safe Kids Worldwide was founded in 1988 by Martin R. Eichelberger, M.D., a pediatric trauma surgeon at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. Day after day, Eichelberger operated on children who had suffered horrific injuries as the result of accidents. Too often, he would have to deliver dreadful news to parents. When asked by one parent if there was anything they could have done to prevent it, Eichelberger was forced to answer “yes.” He later co-founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing unintentional childhood injuries.

In Lexington, under the leadership of Sherry Holmes, the divisional director of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, injury prevention programming was implemented with the help of community partners throughout the county. Holmes and hospital leadership agreed that the program would thrive with a full-time, dedicated staffer. Holmes approached Sherri Hannan, then a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), with the opportunity.

“I was lucky to get that ask,” Hannan said. “I didn’t know that I would go on to do it for 23 years.”

Hannan got to work and formed a coalition that expanded beyond Fayette County to include all of Central Kentucky. With partnerships with state government, law enforcement, faith-based groups and local community organizations, Hannan, along with her staff member Zinnia Robinson and an army of volunteers, hit the ground running to disseminate safety education to kids and caregivers.

“I feel like it’s an important piece of health and wellness for kids when we talk about prevention,” Hannan said. “The goal is to keep them from being injured or having a fatal accident if just one thing had been done differently. Whether it’s adult supervision, a safety device, or having the knowledge to make a better, smarter choice.”

Hannan and her coalition are involved in more than 100 events a year, ranging from manning an information table at an event to hosting safety fairs at city parks with games and other programming that make learning about safety fun and memorable.

“We try to make our programs accessible and meet people where they are,” Hannan said. “It might be evenings, weekends, at school, after school or at a community event. We try to make it fun, especially with kids. We don’t want to be preachy or make them feel like it’s school.”

A fair share of Hannan’s programming has to do with vehicle safety, particularly to ensure caregivers know how to properly install and use car seats.

“One of the leading causes of injury for children is related to motor vehicle crashes,” said Hannan. “We have three stations in the county where people can make an appointment to have their car seats installed, inspected and also be educated on the right way to use it.”

It’s also the area where Hannan sees the most impact.

“There have been situations where we were inspecting the installation of a car seat,” Hannan said. “It’s like a goosebump moment, the hair stands up on the back of your neck because if we hadn’t had that encounter, if we hadn’t been able to get the right information distributed, then heaven forbid, if there was a car crash, there’s no way the child would have survived it.”

Other programming includes teen driver safety, firearm safety, drowning prevention, safe medication storage, bike helmet fittings and even the importance of securing furniture to the wall so it doesn’t tip over if a child climbed on it.

“If you can think of a way that a child can be injured, we probably have a program to address it,” Hannan said.

Hannan draws on her experience as a nurse in the pediatric ICU as motivation to find ways to reach as many families as possible.

“I still think about some of those patients I took care of,” Hannan said. “Tragedies occur and you don’t get do-overs in life. And just think – one small decision would have changed the outcome. Putting a child in a restraint, having them wear a helmet or, as happens all too often, crossing the street at the wrong location. Nobody thinks it will happen to them.”

For Hannan and her coalition, the work is ongoing. Programming is frequently repeated to reach new parents, kids who are getting older and new cohorts of inquisitive toddlers.

SafeKids also evolves in response to new risks. There has been a notable increase in injuries from unsecured items in cars, as they can turn into dangerous projectiles in a crash. Programming and materials were produced in response, and the SafeKids coalition got to work on an education campaign. Kentucky has high rates of children being injured in and around all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Partnering with the Department of Education, Hannan and her team were able to reach educators and school staff to get the word out about ATV safety. Out of Kentucky’s 120 counties, 116 took advantage of the program.

“Everything we do is driven by data,” Hannan said. “It’s all evidenced-based. I’m really proud of the expertise the programming has in educating people about injury prevention. It’s all about knowledge, making choices and behavior change.”

As for the big picture, Hannan isn’t driven by statistics. If she makes a difference in the way just one caregiver thinks or acts, that’s plenty for her.

“One is enough,” she said. “If we can save one child from injury, one family from having to go through a tragic event, that’s enough. It’s very empowering when we tell caregivers something that’s going to make them better caregivers and to keep their child safe.”

UK HealthCare is the hospitals and clinics of the University of Kentucky. But it is so much more. It is more than 10,000 dedicated health care professionals committed to providing advanced subspecialty care for the most critically injured and ill patients from the Commonwealth and beyond. It also is the home of the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that cares for the tiniest and sickest newborns, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and Kentucky’s top hospital ranked by U.S. News & World Report.  

As an academic research institution, we are continuously pursuing the next generation of cures, treatments, protocols and policies. Our discoveries have the potential to change what’s medically possible within our lifetimes. Our educators and thought leaders are transforming the health care landscape as our six health professions colleges teach the next generation of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, spreading the highest standards of care. UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine committed to creating a healthier Kentucky, now and for generations to come.