WILLISTON — The good news is the concussion discussion has gained momentum in Vermont schools. The bad news is that as more sports and events are included in that discussion, the cost to comply with the newly passed Act 68 will grow exponentially.
On Thursday, members of the Concussion Task Force — developed to explore the details of Act 68 and its implementation — met for the third time at the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living to discuss the group’s progress ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline to report back to state government.
“We’ve made a difference now,” said South Burlington athletic trainer and University of Vermont professor Denise Alosa. “There’s more awareness.”
Trevor Squirrel of the Brain Injury Association of Vermont agreed, pointing to an increased number of schools and supervisory unions that have asked for presentations on concussion education.
“We’d love to have these presentations at every school,” he said.
The current law requires that a certified athletic trainer or similarly trained medical personnel be at every scrimmage or game for collision sports — football, wrestling, boys hockey and boys and girls lacrosse — and the group addressed the increased attention other sports like boys and girls soccer, basketball, gymnastics and cheerleading have been receiving when it comes to coverage under the new law.
Alan Maynard, the athletic trainer at BFA-Fairfax, president of the Vermont Athletic Trainers Association and also a professor at the University of Vermont, spoke of the difference between defining collision and contact sports and acknowledging the risks associated with soccer, basketball, gymnastics and cheerleading when it comes to head and neck injuries.
“You can’t ignore the soccer statistics,” Alosa added.
According to information from the National Federation of State High School Associations provided at the meeting, over a period of seven academic years from 2005-2012, the sports with the highest number of competition injuries were football and girls soccer.
Maynard presented data comparing the cost of adding a certified medical professional where there currently is not adequate coverage under Act 68 for just collision sports — which was said to be about $11,480 to $16,400, depending on the person’s hourly rate and travel costs, statewide. When adjusting for the inclusion of just soccer and basketball, that adds over 40 schools without adequate coverage and the cost balloons to between $117,600 and $168,000, statewide.
Maynard used the average hourly rate of $35 and $50 to arrive at the range and multiplied two hours by the number of home games for each sport and then by the number of schools that would need to hire a medical professional to comply with Act 68.
Act 68 only deals with high school athletics, and so far only deals with interscholastic competition — not practices.
However, Maynard and Alosa spoke of their own experience relating to the number of incidents of injury occuring in practice as opposed to games and estimated the ratio was about 3:1 with more injuries being sustained on the practice field. Maynard noted in his cost analysis that game/scrimmage-only coverage only addresses one-fifth of student athletes’ exposure to injury.
There wasn’t a dollar number presented with the addition of practice coverage.
However, if a school hires an athletic trainer on a per diem basis rather than full-time, that medical professional’s ability to provide follow-up care and adequate return-to-play and return-to-learn protocol is limited. A full-time athletic trainer would therefore provide “a critical continuity of care.”
Also, when considering the addition of basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading and soccer to the law, the chance of multiple contests involving high-risk sports occuring at the same time in two different locations greatly increases and would require the hiring of additional medical professionals.
Adding both the contact sport and practice coverage clauses would require further legislation. The group’s task is to produce a reccomendation to legislators based on their research since the bill was passed at the close of the latest session.
The date for the fourth meeting of the Concussion Task Force has yet to be announced.
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