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Education

Doctors, chiropractors reach tentative deal on high school concussion bill

A Senate Committee has reworked a proposal regarding head injuries and public school student-athletes.  James Call reports lawmakers decided to allow the High School Athletic Association to develop rules on when a student who suffers a concussion can resume competition.

The issue of concussions is a hot-button topic. Nationwide, studies indicate more than 60,000 concussions occur every year among high-school age students.  Venice Senator Nancy Detert’s sons were high school athletes and now her granddaughters compete.

“And it’s not just football. I have four granddaughters who are all cheerleaders and they throw kids up two stories high and I’m like, is someone going to catch her? Just because she is small doesn’t mean she can go up several stories, but. . .”

A concussion is caused by a violent blow to the head. It can produce a variety of cognitive, emotional and physical symptoms affecting memory, judgment and balance.  An injury to NHL star Sidney Crosby, and a lawsuit filed by retired NFL players has brought a lot of attention to sports-related head injuries.

In the past two years, 31 states have passed laws setting uniform standards for dealing with concussions in public schools.

“Well, I guess 31 states don’t have the same battle going on between chiros and doctors,” said Fort Lauderdale Senator Jeremy Ring.

His efforts to set a protocol to deal with head injuries were blocked last year. This session he is working to prevent derailment of a similar proposal by Miami Senator Anitere Flores. The stumbling block is who gets to say that a youth who suffered a concussion is well enough to resume play. Should it be someone qualified in the field of neurology or someone who received neurological training?

“This is a time for the legislature to say we’ll make a decision. We’ll make a decision. Either one group will be unhappy or both groups will be unhappy. Cause I don’t know if there is a way to do it to make all groups happy. Other than what we need to do is make the kids safe. And that is our number one position-- not making one group or another happy.”

Lawmakers have balked at putting the decision in the hands of certified neurologists. They fear it would be a hardship for student athletes. Ring notes that there are no practicing physicians in Liberty County and wonders if there is a neurologist within 100 miles of Bristol, the county seat.   Dr. Timothy McQueeny is a Palm Beach chiropractor, and he batted away assertions from neurologists that chiropractors lack the expertise to clear a head injury patient to play. McQueeny is the team doctor for two high school football teams.

“I am the one doing their pre-season physicals. I am the one treating the sprained ankles, the knee injuries, the back injuries, or anything else they may come in with. And I am also the one who made the hard decisions to pull kids out of games when they had concussions and I made the hard decision to keep them out of games for several weeks when appropriate.”

The president of the Florida Society of Neurology told lawmakers only medical doctors and osteopathic doctors are uniquely qualified to examine the eyes and clear patients for competition.  The Florida Medical Association is tentatively supporting a possible compromise. Spokesperson Rebecca O’Hara told the committee the group is still studying the language but a proposal to allow the Florida High School Athletic Association to develop rules on who determines when a head injury patient resumes play may be acceptable.

“What I can tell you is, if we continue to work on that language to ensure that the person who is making the decision to return an athlete to play is appropriately qualified, but leave that decision in the hands of the high school athletic association, that may be the place where we get some middle ground.”

The bill emerging in the Senate would require the Florida High School Athletic Association to develop guidelines for educating coaches, players, parents and officials about sports-related head injuries, require a student athlete suspected of a concussion to be removed from game, and prohibit the student from returning to practice or competition until the youth receives written clearance from someone qualified in the field of neurology; the qualifications to be determined by the high school athletic association.

Committee members voted to make the proposal a committee substitute and sent it to its next stop, the budget committee. A similar proposal is working its way through the House.