Bicycle Helmets: Still the Way to Go

From Spring 1996
Volume III, Number 1

The fall 1994 issue of Building Bridges included the history of a coalition that passed a mandatory bicycle helmet law in Oregon and promoted compliance with the new law.

Kaiser Permanente's Northwest Region played an integral role in this effort. Dr. Mark Tochen, a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician, testified on behalf of the legislation. After the law was passed, Kaiser Permanente contributed its unique strengths to educate the public about the law and supply bicycle helmets to those who could not afford them. Kaiser Permanente's pediatricians were already writing prescriptions allowing children to purchase low-cost helmets from the HMO's pharmacies. Helmets were also sold to the public at cost the week the Oregon law went into effect. The Northwest Region expanded these efforts with a $45,000 grant from the Kaiser Permanente home office allowing them to purchase and distribute helmets to low-income children. Existing partnerships with schools helped Kaiser Permanente identify children in need of free helmets.

As one of the oldest managed care organizations in the nation, Kaiser Permanente recognized the importance of promoting bicycle helmets to the entire community. Mary Strebig, community relations manager, says, "We realize that there is a community component to injury. We considered keeping our campaign internal, but recognized that it would be more effective if it was communitywide." To this end, Kaiser Permanente staff joined police, firefighters, and others in volunteering at bicycle rodeos. The coalition also makes bulk purchases of inexpensive helmets from the HMOs, which are stored in their warehouses until they can be distributed. One of the stars of the bicycle helmet program is "Evel the Weevil," a big green bug from the Kaiser Permanente children's health education theater program. Evel's picture decorates the sides of over 40 medical supply vehicles, bringing this message to the streets and interstates of the Pacific Northwest: "Bike helmets save lives. Wear one every time you ride."

For more information about Kaiser Permanente's programs, contact Mary Strebig, Community Relations Manager, 500 N.E. Multnomah Street, Suite 100, Portland, OR 97237. Phone (503) 813-4824.

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Revised: October 22, 1996

1997 Education Development Center, Inc.