Partnerships in community engagement

Program targets underage drinking in La Crosse area

A community-based coalition and the Medical College are joining efforts to reduce underage drinking and its consequences in La Crosse County. Standing (L-R) are: Al Bliss, La Crosse County Health Department; Catherine Kolkmeier, La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium; Andrew Dittman, La Crosse Police Department; Dr. Jeremy Arney, UW-La Crosse. Seated (L-R) are: Pat Ruda, Coulee Council on Addictions; Tracy Herlitzke, CESA #4; Dr. Brenda Rooney, Gundersen Lutheran.
A community-based coalition and the Medical College are joining efforts to reduce underage drinking and its consequences in La Crosse County. Standing (L-R) are: Al Bliss, La Crosse County Health Department; Catherine Kolkmeier, La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium; Andrew Dittman, La Crosse Police Department; Dr. Jeremy Arney, UW-La Crosse. Seated (L-R) are: Pat Ruda, Coulee Council on Addictions; Tracy Herlitzke, CESA #4; Dr. Brenda Rooney, Gundersen Lutheran.

Underage drinking and alcohol abuse are concerns for communities across the United States. Nowhere is that more evident than in La Crosse County, where 14 people between the ages of 15 and 24 died of alcohol-related injuries from 2003–2007 due to motor vehicle crashes, drowning, suicide, and falls. Armed with those disturbing statistics, the Changing the Culture of Risky Drinking Behavior Community Coalition, a group of La Crosse organizations, stepped forward to be the catalyst for change.

Funded by a grant from the Medical College’s Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program, the Coalition aims to reduce alcohol-related injuries and deaths among youths in La Crosse County.

The Coalition engages students, parents, educators, law enforcement officers, nonprofit and health care workers, elected officials, beverage servers, community festivals, and the media. Their success stories include: providing Responsible Beverage Server training to more than 100 alcohol servers, offering the Strengthening Families program, conducting a Parents Who Host Lose the Most campaign during prom and graduation season, and awarding mini-grants to youth groups for hosting events that emphasize drinking alternatives.

The Coalition is also working with 18 community festival organizers in La Crosse County to adopt safer alcohol best practices. A major success was the 2011 Oktoberfest Maple Leaf Parade, which allowed the Coalition to establish a Family Zone where more than 450 adults and children watched the parade in an area free of alcohol and tobacco use.

The Medical College’s Injury Research Center serves as the primary academic partner for the Coalition, led by Chairman of Emergency Medicine Stephen Hargarten, MD, MPH, and Donna Peterson, PhD. The Injury Research Center provides data analysis, program and policy development and conceptual understanding of the public health challenges of addressing alcohol-related injury and death.

Catherine Kolkmeier, Director of the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium, is the lead community partner. Collaborating partners include: Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, Gundersen Lutheran, Coulee Council on Addictions, Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) #4, La Crosse Police Department, La Crosse County Health Department, Viterbo University, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Western Technical College, and the La Crosse School District.

In November, the Coalition received five more years of funding from the College’s Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program to build sustainable practices, and ensure a community in which alcohol is consumed legally and safely.



Dr. Hargarten is Professor and Chairman of Emergency Medicine, Director of the Injury Research Center, and Associate Dean for Global Health. Dr. Peterson is Program Manager in the Injury Research Center.

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