Meeting the needs of campers with chronic illness
Camp Ramah has long been a leader in expanding the circles of Jewish children who are welcomed into and succeed in our overnight summer program. For fifty years, Camp Ramah has led the way in including campers with disabilities, through our Tikvah Program. For fifteen years, Camp Ramah has ensured that campers with significant food allergies can safely attend camp.
Camp Ramah also leads the way with an approach to caring for our campers that enables young people with chronic illnesses and other health challenges to thrive at camp. This past summer, Camp Ramah extended its long-time efforts with the hiring of a Personal Care Attendant (PCA) for a camper with a chronic illness that requires careful monitoring.
Our camper care team is extensive: a year-round Director of Camper Care; a doctor who can discuss a child’s significant health challenges before the summer begins; a large medical team in the Mirpa’ah (Marp/Health Center); and a large summer camper care staff.
Each year, the Director of Camper Care speaks to all new families and many returning ones. When a family informs her of a child’s chronic illness or other health challenge that will require special attention during the summer, the Director of Camper Care informs a camp doctor. This doctor then speaks to the family to explore how the care of the child in the home and school settings can be translated into the care that can be provided in the camp setting.
Using the information provided by the family (and by relevant medical professionals, as appropriate), the doctor develops a care plan designed to maximize the child’s independence at camp. The care plan may include regular visits to the Marp (for example, for injections, weight checks, extra rest, equipment changes, or high-nutrition snacks); slight adjustments to chuggim (electives) and bunk activities; and apprising the child’s yoetzet (parent liaison) and other staff members of certain conditions to look for. The doctor also may encourage the child practice the independence and self-advocacy that will come into play at camp. The medical challenges that have been successfully addressed include nutritional needs (including eating disorders, weight concerns and feeding tubes); ongoing injections; well controlled epilepsy; significant food allergies; and Crohn’s disease and colitis.
Now, with the addition of a PCA – an adult caretaker who lives at camp – campers with more complex medical needs can successfully attend camp. In 2019, the PCA monitored a twelve-year-old camper who had recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The PCA helped him with meal planning and carb counting; kept a watchful eye during active times of the day; and worked with the nursing staff to monitor the equipment. Staff members in the Marp and the edah (unit) helped with his care and fostered an inclusive environment. As the parents emphasized, “[our son] was not only accepted, but thrived at camp … [Our son] was able to take comfort in knowing that he had a full team to support him medically while he was away from home. Overall, the summer was a tremendous success.”
If your child has a chronic illness or other health challenge that will require special attention at camp, please contact Talya Kalender, Director of Camper Care, at firstname.lastname@example.org.