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A Time to Play and a Time to Heal

By Net Assets posted 9 days ago

  
 brain injury

Risk Management |

Strong concussion management policy and protocol can protect students from life-threatening injuries — and schools from legal fallout.

While people around the country gather to watch football this holiday season, the business officers among them may be thinking about the risks associated with concussions, not only in professional and collegiate leagues but on their own campuses. The good news is that guidance for managing such risk has become clearer.

In a recent NBOA webinar, Brian Rodriguez, chief financial officer at Trinity Christian Academy, defined a concussion as “an injury that changes the way the brain works … caused by a bump or a blow to the head or body that's so significant that it causes the head and the brain to move rapidly back and forth.”

Trinity Christian became an exemplar in concussion management after Janie Heard, the assistant head of the upper school, got a concussion while on vacation. Heard thought the concussion had not affected her until one day she drove home — to a house she had not lived in seven years. Confused in the driveway, she knew she had to see a doctor, and soon after intense headaches set in. Thereafter she studied and implemented concussion management with zeal at the school.

As Heard’s story shows, concussions can be difficult to detect; they are bloodless injuries whose symptoms can take weeks to appear. Furthermore, student-athletes are often reluctant to report concussions and stop playing. Seven out of 10 athletes continue playing following a concussion, and coaches are unaware of their injuries 40 percent of the time, said Rodriguez. Sometimes athletes are striving to win a college scholarship or don’t want to appear weak. According to research, they are most reluctant to report when involved in a playoff or championship game — a time when coaches should be particularly vigilant.

Returning to the field too soon can have grave consequences; the most serious injuries occur when two or more concussions happen within a short period. Julie Brown, Trinity Christian’s in-house counsel, cited numerous cases where students died or were paralyzed after returning to play before their concussions properly healed. In addition to these outcomes, students as young as 17 can experience symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, which can lead to aggressive behavior, depression and suicide.

Schools are generally liable in three areas regarding concussion management, according to Brown. The first is failure to warn players of risks involved with concussions. “One of the things that we as educators and leaders at our schools have to do is to work on changing the message, to let these athletes, particularly the boys who play football, understand that playing hurt is not okay,” she said. “If they are hurt, they need to speak up and they need to let their coaches and their parents know.” While most common in football, concussions can happen in soccer, cheerleading and even P.E. class.

The second area of liability is when athletes return to play without proper evaluation. Brown predicts an increase in lawsuits against schools that have not properly evaluated concussed students. “The key here is before a student is returned to play, they need to be cleared by a medical doctor and not just any medical doctor, but a medical doctor that is trained in concussion management,” she explained.

Schools could also be held accountable for lack of concussion management guidelines, said Brown. Guidelines are available from the NCAA and the CDC, if schools are looking for a model off which to build. “Have strict guidelines, make them public to your community and follow [them],” urged Brown. Administrators should understand the culture of their school’s athletic program and ensure that parents, students, coaches and administrative personnel all have access to concussion management protocol, policies and education regarding detection and prevention.

To learn more about your school’s legal risks regarding concussion management, preventing and detecting concussions, concussion complications, return-to-play protocols, parental waivers and much more, watch the webinar, download the slides and read the transcript.

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