County high schools get certified athletic trainers, improved outlook

First Posted: 3/19/2011

LUMBERTON — It may have taken a few years longer than expected and after a few false starts and hopes, the marriage between Southeastern Regional Medical Center and the Public Schools of Robeson County was finally cemented last week.
The county’s school board voted unanimously to pay the hospital $30,000 to have a nationally certified athletic trainer available for all six high schools during its practices and home contests. Currently, only Lumberton has an athletic trainer on a part-time basis for its student-athletes.
When the vote went through, both Ronnie Chavis, the county’s athletic director, and Bob Hollingsworth, a Physican’s Assistant in Red Springs, were excited about the news.
“I had a couple of principals that told me what a bargain we got for what they are going to do for our kids,” Chavis said. “We are paying $5,000 for each school to have an athletic trainer on staff. I will sleep better knowing that this is in place. This is as good as anything I have done. This will have an impact. When I walked out of the meeting, I floated all the way home.”
Hollingsworth, who has been helping with the Red Springs football team, feels the addition of athletic trainers to all six high schools will make a huge difference to everyone involved in athletics.
“I am so proud, I can’t stand myself,” Hollingsworth said. “I’m pleased there is someone that is available for all of the teams. I couldn’t be there because I have a practice to run. Now there is someone available to everyone. If any kid is injured there is a trained and certified person to deal with these kids.
“When I walked out of the meeting with the school board, I felt this was one of the best things I have done. I felt I have made a difference.”
Matt Lundin, the athletic trainer assigned to Lumberton, added his role with the school will increase.
“It won’t be select sports like it is now, it will be all home events and travelling with football,” Lundin said. “Nothing should be left out, there will be coverage for everything.”
While Lumberton has been the lone school covered by SRMC and its athletic trainers from the Southeastern Lifestyle Center for Fitness & Rehabilitation, there were initial talks between Chavis and the hospital to extend the program to other schools.
Purnell Swett was the logical choice to place another athletic trainer, Chavis approached SRMC to have one available to the Rams. Henry Edwards, an athletic trainer with SRMC, said the hospital was eager to expand the program and moved one of its athletic trainers from another county to assist with the Purnell Swett football team.
“Ronnie approached us about doing Purnell Swett. We were sort of in the same line of thinking getting the two big high school covered then we will start worrying about the others,” Edwards said. “We actually pulled an athletic trainer that was covering a high school in Bladen County, we used to have a clinic over there and had some athletic trainers that worked out of that clinic to finish out a football season for Purnell Swett and we wanted to set up something with them.
“Once football was over with we wanted set up a contract like we had with Lumberton, but we couldn’t get them to commit to do it. They couldn’t come up with the money. It’s a trivial amount of money really comparing to what it’s costing us for salaries and benefits. We couldn’t get that commitment from them to come up with that money.”
The plan to expand the program was shelved because of rough economic times and the lack of medical support to make the program feasibile.
“We have been providing an athletic trainer to Lumberton for nine years,” Kristine Dini-Plumadore, director of rehabilitation services, said. “Each year we get comments and questions, can we do it for St. Pauls, Red Springs, South Robeson. We always had to say no, because we didn’t have enough athletic trainers. We came together three years ago, and that was when there was publicity with deaths in athletes in school. So came together and talked about it. We’ve been working on it for three years, put it on the back burner until we had the orthopedic support we needed. Then that happened and Bob Hollingsworth got involved and that’s how it got pushed through.”
Edwards added once the hospital was able regain its financial foothold after slashing 112 jobs last year, it made sense to broach the subject again to see if the school board and SRMC would be able to come together on the proposal.
“When the economy went south a couple of years ago and finances got hard, then it got to the part where we couldn’t afford to take on all of the athletic trainers’ salaries to just start to hire them,” Edwards said. “As things have picked up, we resurfaced this again because we see the need.”
Chavis knew the plan would eventually be approved, but he wasn’t sure on the timetable.
“I thought eventually it will get done, we just had to get the pieces in place to do it. Thankfully, we were able to get it done,” Chavis said. “I’m proud of the hospital, Henry and Bob. If you can have Christmas in March, I had Christmas in March.”
Despite both sides wanting to place athletic trainers in the high schools, the biggest obstacle to overcome was the cost, not only for the school board to come up with it’s portion, but SRMC as well.
“It’s going to cost in the neighborhood of $300,000 with benefits and things like that. In salaries alone, for the six if you average $40,000 that’s $240,000, there’s no benefits in that,” Edwards said. “So it’s going to be around $300,000 the hospital is going to be paying out in salaries and benefits. So to be taking in $30,000, it’s not that much of an offset for that $300,000 that is being shelled out.”
Even though SRMC is taking on the majority of the costs, Dini-Plumadore feels the money is well worth it because of the possibility of referrals within the program to other departments.
She recalled a story of a former Lumberton football player that broke his hand and was referred to one doctor, but was unable to schedule a surgery until weeks later. The player’s grandparents were not pleased with the delay and went to another doctor, who was able to perform the procedure with a few days. Later, when the grandmother needed surgery of her own, she went back to same surgeon.
“First and foremost we felt we need to do this for the community,” Dini-Plumadore said. “Show that it will benefit everyone in the long run not just rehab, but orthopedic surgeons, radiology, labs having these kids seen by us, instead of sent to other places.”
Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at (910) 272-6111 or [email protected]

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