Promoting public health initiatives in local communities can help physicians build relationships with the people they care for every day. Martha Howell and her husband, infectious disease specialist Alan Howell, MD, have taken that idea a few steps further.
For the past three years, the couple has hosted Hard Hats for Little Heads events not in Bell County, where they currently live, but in counties where the Texas Medical Association’s bicycle helmet giveaway for kids has not occurred.
“Each year (TMA Outreach Coordinator) Tammy Wishard puts up a map of where Be Wise ImmunizeSM and Hard Hats for Little Heads events have been held across the state, and there were so many counties that had not been reached,” said Martha Howell, treasurer and TMA Alliance liaison for the Bell County Medical Society Alliance.
The couple’s first event in 2016 was in Dr. Howell’s hometown of Spearman in Hansford County. The cyclist, who has a background in pediatrics, and his wife followed that up with an event in Big Lake in Reagan County in 2017. In 2018 they hosted one in Winters in Runnels County.
The duo still is looking for a 2019 location, and they encourage physicians to consider doing the same.
“I would love for other people to identify counties where they have connections because it’s so easy to put on an event like this,” Martha Howell said.
Texas Medicine spoke to the Howells about their Hard Hats experience. Here are some of their thoughts:
Martha: I see it as more than just providing helmets. I see it as bringing the support that this amazing association has to these communities that are truly underserved. … Albeit important, in larger communities/bigger cities where there are active medical societies and/or alliances, these events are one among many supporting the community. When you do these events in underserved counties, the whole community comes out, and you can create such a bigger impact. … In Reagan County, we started with just going to the elementary school. But next thing you know, the whole community at Big Lake was donating scooters and bicycles, and the local volunteer fire department was cooking hot dogs, and the police department was there doing safety demonstrations, and the football team was there helping fit helmets. It provided an opportunity for the whole community to gather.
Alan: The parents can feel a little more confident because their kids have a helmet. The kids get excited because they have something new they can put on their heads. And for the physicians, it’s gratifying because they’re able to really impact their community on a level they might not have been able to as an individual.
Martha: Not only are you reaching those physicians and those communities, but you’re also bringing the family of medicine together. For example, as we started preparing for Runnels County, the Taylor County Alliance in Abilene said, “We’re close by. We can go help.” San Angelo did the same. People from multiple counties were talking and sharing ideas and connecting with each other to try to meet the need of this county. As of Dec. 18, we can say every elementary school child in Winters has a helmet.
Alan: It’s finding something you’re passionate about and interested in. It just so happened, for a variety of reasons, helmets worked well for Martha and me. But because I’m on the Be Wise — Immunize committee, it could just as easily have been finding areas where there are low levels of vaccinations because of a rural setting, or something like that.
Martha: Last time I looked, there were 101 counties that had not had a Hard Hats for Little Heads event. That means 101 opportunities. Some of those counties are adjacent to counties that have events, so why not just reach out to the elementary school there or the community college and have a Be Wise — Immunize or a Hard Hats event? … My challenge for anyone is to find a county that hasn’t had something before and do it. Look at that map. If you want help, Alan and I will be happy to join you.
TMA makes it easy for physicians to host or sponsor Hard Hats events by providing low-cost helmets, publicity, educational materials, and media support. TMA can provide matching grants for helmet purchases. For more information, email tammy.wishard[at]texmed[dot]org, or call (800) 880-1300, ext. 1470, or visit www.texmed.org/hardhats.
Tex Med. 2019;115(2):20-21
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