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Medical students start project to improve care at camps

SCHI founders, from left, Mattan Lustgarten, Adam Handler, Daniel Freedman and Arielle Zahavi
SCHI founders, from left, Mattan Lustgarten, Adam Handler, Daniel Freedman and Arielle Zahavi

Four Jewish summer camp alumni, current medical school students and former Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto students have come together on an initiative they hope will change the way medical aid is provided at camp.

The Summer Camp Health Initiative (SCHI), founded by Adam Handler, Arielle Zahavi, Mattan Lustgarten and Daniel Freedman, is a project that aims to improve health-care provision at summer camps, in part through a four-year research project to collect and analyze medical data.

“There are very few research studies on what is actually happening at camp. We know protocols, we know what to do in emergency situations but in terms of dictating – should we have quarantine cabins? How should the infirmary run? We don’t really have any set protocols or set pieces that should direct us to do certain things,” said Handler, a third-year Queen’s University medical student and alum of Camp Kadimah, one of the partners of the SCHI project.


The project, supported by the Canadian Camping Association of Ontario and Quebec; the Alberta Camping Associations; and a group involved in a similar study in the United States, is meant to review existing health policies and protocols, identify areas of improvement, promote staff retention by providing them with academic opportunities, and promote the development of health-related projects, policies and procedures through a camp network.

“We wanted to sort of establish more of a national collaborative… for health- care promotion and primary prevention,” Handler said.

Lustgarten, second-year University of Toronto medical student who is returning as staff this summer to Camp Shomria, another SCHI partner, said this project is the first of its kind in Canada.

“There are many organizations out there that do certain parts of the health piece. There are ones that focus on sports and healthy living at camp… There certainly isn’t anything that brings all the pieces together and is an umbrella for good health at camp,” Lustgarten said.

One of the first programs that they launched last year was a two-to-three hour staff-training program that focused on physical first aid that went beyond CPR training.

“Every summer lots of kids come to the health centre with the most benign complaints, whether it is a little cut, or for many different reasons that could be dealt with by so many staff who are comfortable handling a small situation. That results in a great deal of burnout for the health care staff at camp… Like, what to do if a kid falls out of bed in the middle of the night? What to do if the kid feels nauseous?”

He said he feels like there was “definite improvement” after they conducted the medical training program for the staff.

“We asked ourselves what staff need to know,” Handler said. “That includes hand hygiene, environmental things like poison ivy, ticks, anaphylaxis puffers, some things you’ll see on a day-to-day basis at camp.”


When it comes to the four-year study they’re conducting, which will have a full ethics board review, Handler said the information collected will be used to develop a better first aid program.

“Looking back, we don’t have great records of how [many cases of the flu] there were, so we thought, let’s start collecting data and maybe in a couple years we can show what are the problems and do a needs assessment,” Handler said.

“If we find certain issues are higher yield, we’ll know which things need to be focused on and invest our time and energy in. We’ll see if there are different things we need to do at camp to deal with specific things, to prioritize which areas we need to invest the most time and energy,” Lustgarten added.