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Ski injuries create empathy, motivating teacher to educate seniors

Aware of the effects of falls from ski patrol work at Mount Spokane and empathetic about how a back injury can impede life, Tom Ulvin is spending a year promoting falls prevention among senior citizens.


Tom Ulvin

A retired teacher, he has worked on the Spokane County Injury Fall Prevention Program since January with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) at the YMCA in downtown Spokane through AmeriCorps VISTA.

In 2006 in Washington, he reported, there were 12,500 hospitalizations of seniors 65 years and older because of falls, and 30 percent of them were still receiving nursing care a year later.

He is assisting with a pilot program to write and distribute information on falls prevention for a new county program, which is a collaborative effort of 60 individuals and agencies, such as the Spokane Regional Health District, EMTs, the Spokane Fire Department, Striders, senior centers, Sit and Be Fit, KHQ and KSPS-TV.

The partners are also providing training for speakers and preparing videos as part of the educational effort.

Tom summarized suggestions to help seniors prevent falls:

• Start exercise programs to improve coordination, balance and core strength;

• Choose good footwear;

• Avoid dangerous interactions of medicines;

• Have annual vision checks;

• Make the home safer by clearing clutter, using hand rails, not reaching high, using night lights and installing grab bars in tubs.

The Spokane Neighborhood Action Program does safety inspections of homes of low-income seniors, Tom added.

For a year-and-a-half after he retired in 2006 after 31 years of teaching grades four to six and coaching middle-school sports, he vacationed, enjoying doing hobbies, archery, hunting, sailing, skiing, mountain biking and hiking.

Then he sought an avenue to use his teaching and community organizing background.

“I’m public-service oriented,” said Tom, who grew up in Northwood Presbyterian Church, and studied Buddhism and Native American spirituality in college.

He studied at Washington State University, the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University, completing a degree in K-12 education and communication studies in 1974.  He taught at Regal and Browne elementary schools.  On a year leave of absence, he taught at an American school in Norway.

On ski patrol at Mt. Spokane, he saw broken backs and necks, dislocated shoulders, lacerations, and head, hand, wrist and leg injuries.

He feels a commitment to public service as he speaks to small and large groups gathered for AARP, health care and other conferences.

His goal is to develop the program so that the health district will be able to carry it on after his AmeriCorps term ends.

Having empathy from experiencing a back injury that needed physical therapy and epidural injections, he said:  “If I can prevent one senior from going down, it’s worth it.”

For information, call 344-7787 or email