The Great Outdoors

Camps come in all shapes and sizes to meet the needs of a variety of interests. Some camps offer general outdoor activities, while others have a singular emphasis. Likewise, some camps accommodate a wide range of campers, while others cater to special groups, such as children with cancer, diabetes or disabilities.

No matter what special program and group a camp serves, children and adults alike come away with five outcomes, as identified by the American Camp Association: self-identity, self-worth, self-esteem, leadership and self-respect.

ADVANCE spoke with nurses at special needs camps about maintaining a healthy camp environment and helping campers enjoy their experience despite illnesses and social problems.

What Is a Camp Nurse?
Briana DeCarvalho, RN, works in JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s Brain Trauma Unit in Edison, NJ. She is also the camp nurse at TREK (Together in Recreation, Exploration & Knowledge), a 1-week residential respite camp program for adults with a primary diagnosis of TBI. As the only program of its kind in the state of New Jersey, TREK provides a time for campers ages 16 to 66 to socialize and get involved in a vast amount of recreational activities, such as swimming, dancing, art, music, cooking, poetry, nature study and sports.

SUNNY DAYS: Briana DeCarvalho, RN, a camp nurse at TREK (Together in Recreation, Exploration & Knowledge), a 1-week residential respite camp program for adults with a primary diagnosis of TBI, spends time with camper Barbara Crandles. photo courtesy TREK

DeCarvalho lives on the premises of camp for the week, along with campers and counselors, and is on call throughout the day and nights as needed. Her primary responsibilities are to provide nursing care, first aid, emergency response and medication disbursement to TREK participants and staff.

“A camp nurse must be fully involved and have open communication between campers and camp counselors. Counselors are the link between nursing and campers because they are with them 24 hours a day,” she explained.

Before TREK begins, camp counselors have a full day of orientation. During that time, DeCarvalho will review the importance of communicating to nursing staff any needs the counselors or campers may have during the week. She also reviews with staff the “basic needs” of campers, such as proper nutrition, hydration, elimination and rest.

Providing Care
“Nursing care begins as soon as campers arrive,” stated DeCarvalho. This includes reviewing all health and medication information with caregivers for accuracy. Distribution of medications is a main responsibility of camp nurses. Phone calls to families regarding medical or first aid occurrences are done throughout the week if necessary. Blood pressure and blood glucose checks are done for those in need. First aid is provided for any incidences that occur such as falls, scrapes, bee stings or rashes. Seizure activity may occur frequently during week, and nurses must respond appropriately.

From a psychosocial aspect, she noted TREK campers find it easy to fit into the camp community because they have a common ground which is brain injury. “Although every injury is very different, many of the campers are able to understand and accept one another having experienced a TBI,” she said.

For 6 weeks in the summer Janet Degraaf, BSN, RN, works as a camp nurse at West Bergen Mental Healthcare’s SOAR (Social Skills, Outdoor Fun, Arts & Crafts, & Relationships) Experience, a therapeutic social skills program in a day camp-like environment for children and teens with Asperger’s syndrome and related disorders.

When not involved in medication administration and general first aid, Degraaf is involved in all camp activities and trips. “Many children have difficulties with the different settings encountered on field trips and on weekly swim trips. Often, these children have sensory issues that require special attention,” she said. “It is important to convey to the children a sense of safety and security. The children need to know who the nurse is and that she is readily available to them.”

Degraaf also often sees a child if they are having some difficulty with adjusting to camp, she said. They may present with physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches or shortness of breath that can be related to the anxiety they may experience at camp. The nurse needs to determine if what the child is experiencing is related to a psychosocial issue or is purely physical.

“Many of these children take different psychoactive medications and need to be monitored for side effects as well as heat-related effects,” she said.


Photos From Camp

Join in the fun at TREK camp in New Jersey.

A Humbling Experience
Camp nursing is an ideal opportunity to practice holistic nursing, noted DeCarvalho. “The camp setting is very therapeutic in itself for these campers. I have heard many times from campers that TREK serves as a ‘getaway’ from the real-life problems that they deal with from brain injury,” she said.

That’s because campers are surrounded with positive energy, encouragement and fellow friends that truly understand those struggles.

“As a camp nurse, I have been able to care for the camper as a whole, not just focusing on their brain injury. Enjoying a conversation on a bench outside, taking a walk on the nature trail or participating in a yoga session with campers are ways I am able to get in touch with their ‘inner self,'” she explained.

TREK is a humbling experience for DeCarvalho, she said. “Being a nurse at TREK is a fulfilling experience in that I am able to see the other end of the journey recovery. These campers are extremely resilient and persevere every single day with their brain injury. I’m thankful to know them and to give them as much happiness as I can for that 1 week out of the year.”

Beth Puliti is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.

About The Author