By Pam O’Del
Should Gov. Deal allow HB284 to become law, youth exhibiting signs of a concussion during organized sporting events must be pulled from the activity. They must then be evaluated and approved to return to that activity by a qualified health care professional.
The bill also requires public and private schools to design and implement a “concussion management and return to play” policy and to notify parents of the risks concussions present to their child. The bill simply encourages other youth sporting organizations to do so.
HB284 broadly defines both a “public recreational facility” and “youth athletic activity” to include almost all situations and venues involving youth aged 19 and younger. It includes public recreation departments and saddle clubs and all sports - from volleyball - to soccer - to barrel racing. Any entity charging a participation fee must adhere to the requirements in the bill.
Churches and synagogues as well as programs “incidental to a non-athletic program” (presumably 4-H, boy/girl scouts, and like organizations) are excluded from all requirements.
Youth sports organizations must have a “qualified healthcare provider” defined as “a licensed physician or another licensed individual under the supervision of a licensed physician such as a nurse practitioner, physician assistant or a certified athletic trainer who has received training in concussion evaluation and management. “
The bill is unclear as to whether that individual is required to be on-site during all activities but it does not require that the individual be paid for his or her work. Hence, volunteer professionals would qualify. The bill contains a paragraph providing unpaid professionals with civil immunity.
HB284 instructs the Georgia Department of Public Health to endorse training programs so that healthcare professionals can obtain convenient and affordable training. It specifically cites the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as being a means of obtaining cost-free, online training.
Entitled the Return to Play Act of 2013, the bill was initiated by the Georgia Concussion Coalition (GCC). Made up of primarily physicians, athletic trainers, coaches and educators, the coalition was supported in their lobbying effort by Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons. The team made several appearances at the capitol, profiling the careers of players whose hits in the game rendered them impaired.
David Wright, co-founder of GCC and father of three very athletic children, believes the bill is a “first step in raising awareness towards a problem we now know is very serious but don’t quite fully understand.” Wright, who works at the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital, gives credit to war veterans in Iraq and Iran for drawing attention to the debilitating effects of repeated head collision. Wright claims that 80 percent of combat deaths result from head trauma.
Calling concussions the “silent epidemic,” Wright notes that most injuries are not addressed because “People cannot relate to what they cannot see, a broken leg is obvious, head trauma is not.” He adds: “There is pressure to be tough and keep playing.”
Wright explained that young brains are especially vulnerable to trauma because “their circuitry continues to be developed.” Wright believes that repeated, unhealed hits lead to “the serious cognitive and neurological dysfunction we see in career athletes” but also to “less obvious results in the general population of young sports participants such as memory loss, aggression and depression.”
The author of the bill, State Representative Jimmy Pruett, R-Eastman, said he “did not want in any way to curtail youth sports.” Citing statistics that “about 2 percent of those incarcerated have played a team sport,” Pruett looked at ways to “not punish, but enlighten parents and coaches.” Pruett acknowledges there will be non-compliance but remarked: “This is 99 percent education. No one wants to see a kid hurt for life. At the end of the day, it’s just a game.”