Just as one has an annual check-up with a personal physician, so too would our camps benefit from an end-of-summer review of their health status. Granted, the last two or three weeks of a summer season can be busy, but that busyness is less frantic when one can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. In anticipation of summer’s end, we start enjoying the laid-back moments tucked into those final weeks.

These moments allow time to reminisce, to think about the summer and consider all that was accomplished. Most things went well. Celebrate those successes and acknowledge the prep work that made them possible. Other things could be improved or done differently to achieve better outcomes. Noting those situations and what’s needed to achieve that desired improvement generally isn’t too difficult. Indeed, such ideas often become autumn’s to-do list. Finally, there are the one or two things that weren’t so great; they can be so impactful that they color the entire summer. These, too, trigger ideas that influence one’s future work — but typically in an effort to avoid anything like it in the future.

What about your camp’s health? If you could take your camp’s pulse, measure its blood pressure and test its urine, what would you discover? Better yet, what might you consider when evaluating camp health? Here are some ideas.

Hallmarks of a Healthy Camp Community

The Association of Camp Nurses (ACN) is focused on promoting healthy camp communities and, in support of that, articulated ten statements that describe the characteristics of a healthy camp. Originally developed in 1999 during ACN’s International Camp Health Congress, the Hallmarks of a Healthy Camp Community have been periodically revised to maintain their contemporary camp focus (2013). The most recent list says a healthy camp community:

  1. Has espoused values that are evident to others through camp artifacts that, in turn, are congruent with the camp’s values.
  2. Focuses on placing people in the natural world to enhance human development.
  3. Uses moments of the here-and-now as building tools for a vision for the future.
  4. Partners with others to bridge life at camp with life in other settings.
  5. Has moved beyond mere tolerance of diversity to comfort with it.
  6. Defines “qualified staff” in terms of people skills — especially those associated with human development — as well as activity skills.
  7. Knows the risks and needs of its community members and facilitates a plan to minimize — if not eliminate — risks while addressing needs.
  8. Identifies and monitors benchmarks to measure progress along the healthy camp continuum and enjoys visionary leadership from people who facilitate that progress.
  9. Has many more opportunities for campers and staff than it ever has problems.
  10. Realizes that sometimes the most therapeutic intervention is to simply allow the “magic of camp” to unfold.

Assessing the pulse of a camp might begin with reviewing the hallmarks. Which of these does your camp reflect? Which might be reflected more effectively given some change? And with which does your camp struggle? The answer to these questions provides an indication of your camp’s overall health. Note that camp health indicated by the hallmarks isn’t only described in terms of injury and illness; it includes parameters of mental, emotional, social health (MESH) and human development with an emphasis on the relationships that support these outcomes.

Incident Review

Another health assessment can be drawn from the incidents that occurred. Captured by a camp’s incident report process, these are often sorted in typical ways: camper or staff incidents, events that caused personal injury, those that resulted in property damage or loss, and so forth. What about trying a different perspective? Make a distinction between incidents that occurred because they truly stressed the camp’s capacity and those that resulted because of something that can be addressed by policy change and/or adaptation. A stressed capacity often reflects the skill of responding staff, something that can be mitigated by training and/or experience. Consider, for example, the first time one works with a camper who discloses abuse at home. The impact of that initial experience modifies one’s response to future abuse incidents. Note the incidents whose impact was the result of staff inexperience or lack of knowledge; these lend themselves well to targeted training, especially tabletop exercises (you can search for this topic on the Internet for ideas). On the other hand, if incidents were triggered because of inadequate or nonexistent camp policies, schedule time at the keyboard to update those areas.

Modifiable Injury-Illness Events

Before your health center staff leave, have them prepare a report that analyzes the injuries and illnesses caused by something the camp controls. For example, a camper’s middle ear infection or flaring asthma may occur for reasons entirely associated with that camper’s health profile. We’re dealing with people, so sometimes things happen that truly cannot be prevented. On the other hand, when a camp’s rules, the protective equipment provided (or not provided), the schedule we ask campers and staff to follow, or the camp’s environment cause injury or illness, that can be changed. Illness and injury associated with causative agents like these — agents under the camp’s control — are what should be noted and addressed.

Another factor your health center staff might consider is the impact of fatigue. Fatigue can be sneaky. Older campers and most staff have learned that they can handle an occasional night with limited sleep as long as it’s followed by an opportunity to catch up on rest. The insidious nature of fatigue means that it tends to creep up on one and often first presents through one’s demeanor; a person who was bright-eyed and amenable becomes short-tempered and/or lacks the tolerance usually displayed. In short, the beauty turns into a beast. As noted in the Healthy Camps Study (2011), fatigue was a contributing factor in about 80 percent of the reported injuries and illnesses. Do your camp policies allow youth (including staff) to get their needed eight hours of sleep a night? Do you?

Resilience is often cited when determining how likely a person is to experience an injury or illness. Fatigue can certainly wear down one’s resilience, as can nutrition, hydration, and overall emotional health. Consequently, include assessment of these factors when your health center staff reviews the season’s injury-illness data. Weaknesses may show in a camp schedule that keeps people so busy that hydration levels drop, in nutrition that doesn’t complement campers’ developmental stage or neglects to provide adequate snacks, in cabin tensions that wear people down, and/or work environments that stress coping reserves. Knowing that your camp reinforces resiliency factors is important; knowing when injury-illness reflects low resiliency enables you to review and improve conditions.

Parental Barometers

Another aspect to consider pertains to the care of parents. Just as people show resiliency so, too, do organizations. A camp’s interface with parents often reflects that resilience. If parental communication and interaction has generally been positive, it reflects positively on the camp. Stressed or tension-filled interactions provide keen indicators for needed improvement. Here’s where addressing parental readiness for their child’s camp experience may be helpful.

Experienced camp professionals already know that some parents aren’t ready. These parents often focus exclusively on their child and neglect to consider their own response to putting their child in a setting (camp) where direct parent oversight isn’t part of the agreement. The notion of a hovering, helicopter parent isn’t new; indeed, we’re also experiencing bulldozer parents — they so effectively “plow the way” that their child isn’t even aware of potential growth opportunities. The parents have usurped them.

So another facet of a camp’s health is discovered in its ability to effectively guide parents, coaching them to partner with the camp so their child’s experience contributes to developmental growth. The result is a child with stronger self-esteem, improved self-confidence, and the ability to effectively determine when he or she is risk-ready. Making sure that parents reflect this goal is indicated by reviewing the reasons why parents contact the camp, the supports provided (or lacking) to parents, and the connections maintained when the child isn’t at camp. As one parent aptly stated: “Camp grows up parents if you let it.”

The end of summer’s busy camp season often brings anticipated down time for camp professionals. Even those who step into an academic year schedule usually enjoy a gap before schools are ready to bring classes to camp. Take time to recharge yourself but also intentionally review your camp’s health. Is it as resilient as you’d like? What capacity might you add? Rumination of these questions might be best served in company with other camp leaders, especially those from your own camp. Bouncing ideas off one another and validating perceptions is valuable.


Healthy Camps Study
The Healthy Camps Study is available as a PDF download at ACAcamps.org/sites/default/files/downloads/Healthy-Camp-Study-Impact-Report.pdf.


Managing the Impact of Staff Fatigue
It can be challenging for staff to assume responsibility for maintaining their effectiveness on the job. To address this concern, consider adding evaluation questions like these in your staff performance appraisal tool:
  • How well does this staff member manage his or her personal life so he or she is effective on the job?
  • How well does this staff member oversee campers so camper injury-illness is minimized?

ACA Healthy Camps Study Advisory Committee. (2011). Healthy camps study impact report: 2006–2010. Martinsville, IN: American Camp Association.
Association of Camp Nurses (2013). Hallmarks of a healthy camp community. Fisherville, KY: Association of Camp Nurses

Linda Ebner Erceg, RN, MS, PHN, is the program coordinator for Bemidji State University’s Certificate in Camp Nursing (MN). Her experience includes over 30 years as a year-round camp nurse for Concordia Language Villages and deep experience in working with camp professionals to address camp health needs. She currently chairs ACA’s Healthy Camps committee, where her time at camp as well as her former role as executive director for the Association of Camp Nurses now contributes to her educational and research activities.