A key public health resource to prevent drownings

Published 2:26 pm Friday, August 26, 2016

The Moore Aquatic Center is a recreational jewel and a key public health resource to prevent drownings in Beaufort County. This past week’s tragic drowning of a 10-year-old boy from Brooklyn and his father at the Days Inn in Washington is far from an isolated incident in North Carolina. My Google search found that 26 individuals have drowned in water-related incidents in North Carolina since May 2016. The federal CDC indicates that drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages 1-4 than any other cause except congenital anomalies. Among those children ages 1-14, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle accidents.

The Aquatic Center has a primary focus on water safety, and its staff teaches well over 500 children to swim per year. As a frequent swimmer at the pool, I can attest that attendance is up considerably this summer with over 300 Beaufort County children receiving swim lessons. Dalace Inman, aquatics supervisor, indicated to me that attendance has averaged 200 individuals per week and at times has surpassed 400 individuals this summer — both sizable increases.

Many good reasons have been articulated to keep the Aquatic Center open. Swimming is a fantastic health and wellness activity-suitable for all ages. The center serves many community groups including Special Olympics, Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, Police Activities League, Senior Games and many more. Center staff is a primary source of lifeguard training for private aquatic venues including summer camps, health clubs and waterfronts. The center is home to three competitive swim teams and an adult swim team. The 2016 State Championship Washington High Swim Team also calls the center home. The center serves both city and county residents and close to 60 percent of users are county residents.

The Aquatics Center as a key public health resource to prevent the tragedy of drowning has received much less attention. The question that city, county and school district policymakers and Beaufort County residents need to ask is if the Aquatic Center is closed, what is our strategy to prevent the tragedy of drownings in this county? In North Carolina, 1 in 10 acres is water, and a high proportion of both commercial and recreational activity in our county is spent on the water. How much is one life saved from drowning worth? To me, it is pretty priceless.

Public swimming pools in this country rarely make money and often require some level of public subsidy. We use local public funds to support many public health activities such as immunizations and emergency medical services. We subsidize these activities in large part because they save lives and prevent disease and disability. We also use public funds to support recreational activities because they improve the quality of our life and promote health and wellness. The Moore Aquatic Center is not only a valuable recreational jewel but also a critically important public health resource that deserves our ongoing support.

Michael Beachler, MPH (master’s in public health), is a Washington resident.