Spotting the Signs: Sutter Health Athletic Trainers Address Student Concussions
Novato, Calif — New research studies on concussions have shown that left untreated, they can cause serious long-term health problems—a frightening prospect for student athletes and their families. In 2014, Novato Community Hospital (NCH) and Novato Unified School District came together to help. They teamed up to improve concussion detection and injury prevention for the district’s more than 1,600 student athletes across 21 different sports. The result was the NCH Athletic Trainer Program.
Designed by the NCH Orthopedics Department and supervised by the department chief, the program takes a holistic approach to safeguard the health and safety of student athletes. Launched in 2015, it funds two full-time certified athletic trainers, one at San Marin High School and one at Novato High School, who work with students on a daily basis, attending all practice sessions and games where high-impact sports are played. “The certified athletic trainers are healthcare professionals that are educated on and experienced in the evaluation and management of athletic injuries, including concussions,” said Jennifer Lehr, director of orthopedic services at NCH.
The trainers identified concussion symptoms in 47 local student athletes in 2017, all of whom needed to see a doctor. “Without this intervention, they may have continued on the field, risking permanent injury,” said Steven Dehart, the certified athletic trainer at San Marin High School.
In addition to in-the-moment concussion assessment, the certified athletic trainers also conduct extremely detailed computer-based pre-injury concussion testing at the start of every school year to establish each student’s unique brain-health baseline. Later in the year, if a concussion occurs during practice or play, the severity of injury can be objectively measured to provide information vital to medical treatment.
Finally, the certified athletic trainers provide student athletes and school coaches with basic sports medicine training, including how to avoid common bone, joint and muscular-skeletal injuries. “We really focus on injury prevention,” Lehr said. “The ultimate goal is to enhance the student-athlete experience and establish good habits now for lifelong health and well-being.”
The Athletic Trainer Program is made possible through the support of the community. The Novato Community Hospital Foundation funds a portion of the program and donors have supported the purchase and licensing of the computer-based pre-injury concussion testing software, as well as a portion of the salaries for the certified athletic trainers. In addition, donations covered the cost of advanced software the radiologists at NCH needed to conduct susceptibility weighted imaging during an MRI, which can more precisely diagnose brain injuries. Novato Community Hospital covers the remainder of program costs through community benefit investments. The Novato Unified School District provides oversight, infrastructure and acts as the first point of contact with parents.