Codey-Vitale Comprehensive Concussion Safety Bill Approved In Committee

Measure Would Implement Top-to-Bottom Concussion Prevention for Student-Athletes

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Richard J. Codey and Joseph F. Vitale which would implement a comprehensive concussion prevention program for student-athletes in New Jersey was unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee today.

“When it comes to our State’s younger athletes, we have to do a better job protecting them from the life-long consequences of head trauma and brain injury,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex. “Participating in scholastic or inter-scholastic sports can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and can help teach our kids the value of teamwork and fair play. But at the same time, we have to guarantee proper safeguards and precautions to make sure that our kids’ sports experience is a positive and safe one.”

“Study upon study has shown that repeated concussions early in life have serious long-term consequences, particularly for young athletes who are still developing,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “We cannot ignore the health care data any longer. It’s time that we put a comprehensive concussion prevention plan in place on the State level to keep kids safe while they enjoy their favorite sports.”

The bill, S-2106, would take a multi-pronged approach to concussion prevention in youth sports across New Jersey.

The State Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Health and Senior Services, would be responsible for developing and implementing, by the 2011-2012 academic year, an interscholastic athletic head injury safety training program to educate public and non-public school physicians, coaches and athletic trainers on the warning signs and symptoms of head and neck injuries and concussions, including the symptoms associated with second-impact syndrome, a serious life-threatening condition resulting from a second concussion while a person is still healing from an initial concussion. The training would also include information about the appropriate amount of time to delay the return to sports competition or practice for a student suspected of suffering from a concussion. Training information would be updated periodically as new research is conducted on childhood brain injuries.

The bill would also require the Department to create a fact sheet to provide information on sports-related concussions and other head injuries to student-athletes and their parents. School districts would be required to annually distribute the fact sheet to students participating in scholastic sports, and would be required to get a signed acknowledgement from a parent or guardian before allowing the student to participate.

“The top responsibility for coaches, trainers, school physicians and parents is to keep kids safe,” said Senator Codey, who coaches a travelling basketball team in West Orange. “In order to fulfill that responsibility, we need to provide everyone with the latest information on brain injuries and concussions, including ways to identify and properly treat concussions. This bill creates a mechanism so that everyone involved in student athletics has the information necessary to keep kids out of harm’s way.”

The bill would require school districts and nonpublic schools to develop written policies and safety standards to prevent and treat sports-related concussions. These policies would be based on model regulations created by the Department of Education, in consultation with sports-injury and head injury experts. The districts’ policies would be reviewed annually and updated as necessary. In addition, any youth sports organizations which practice or compete on school grounds would be required to comply with the policies set by the school district or nonpublic school in regards to concussion management and prevention, in order to protect the school from liability.

Under the bill, any player who has suffered a concussion or is suspected of having suffered a concussion would be required to be immediately removed from sports competition or practice, and shall not return to practice or competition until he or she receives written clearance from a physician.

Finally, the bill would require licensed athletic trainers, as a condition of their biennial license renewal, to complete 24 hours of continuing education in an approved sports medicine curriculum. Under the bill, part of the continuing education requirements would have to be devoted to programs or topics related to concussions and brain injuries.

“This bill lays out a top-to-bottom approach to better identify and prevent concussions for student-athletes,” said Senator Vitale, who serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “It will give school officials, coaches, parents and the athletes themselves the resources needed to avoid long-term health complications from undiagnosed and untreated concussions.”

The lawmakers added that more attention is being paid to concussions now as a result of certain high-profile cases involving retired NFL players who are suffering the cumulative effects of a lifetime of undiagnosed or untreated concussions. They noted that while concussions and brain injuries have an impact on athletes of all ages, the impact can be most serious on younger athletes, whose bodies and brains are still developing. Medical research has linked untreated concussions to a variety of health problems, including ‘punch drunk’ syndrome, memory loss, chronic headaches and dizziness, tinnitus, light sensitivity and emotional outbursts. Research has also shown that multiple concussions over the course of a lifetime can make athletes five times more susceptible to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease later in life, and can put them at a significantly greater risk for clinical depression and other psychological disorders.

The senators added that athletic trainers, coaches, and parents have a responsibility to make sports as safe as possible for their kids, and no child should have to face serious, long-term health implications because someone missed the signs of a concussion.

“From the professional level on down, medical experts are finally paying attention to the health effects of a lifetime of undiagnosed, untreated concussions,” said Senator Vitale. “The effects can be debilitating, severe, and in some cases, lethal. A comprehensive approach to reduce and properly treat concussions in student-athletes is long past due.”

“Participation in youth sports shouldn’t carry the risk of life-long health complications,” said Senator Codey. “However, as a coach, I recognize that no sport is one-hundred percent safe. Hopefully, with better policies statewide to help manage the risk, prevent injury, and direct injured athletes to proper treatment, we can make scholastic sports a much safer, healthier activity for our kids.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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