BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana Department of Health and the Louisiana Emergency Response Network (LERN) have joined forces to help protect young athletes from the dire consequences of head injuries and concussions.
Act 314, which was signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal on June 28, creates a uniform education, training and return-to-play protocol for private and public schools, private sports clubs, public recreation departments and other youth sports leagues intended to protect youth athletes. LDH and LERN are implementing Act 314 by giving coaches, administrators, parents and the athletes themselves new tools to know how to recognize concussions, follow proper return-to-play rules and prevent further injury.
"With the start of high school football season and youth soccer leagues, our children across the state will have great opportunities to exercise, build confidence and learn how to work well in a team environment," LDH Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein said. "At the same time, we want Louisiana's youth to safely enjoy physical activity - that's why this proactive movement to educate families and coaches about the serious dangers of head injuries like concussions is so critical."
State Sen. Sherri Smith Cheek authored SB 189, which became known as the Louisiana Youth Concussion Act, in the 2011 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature. It was approved unanimously by both chambers of the Legislature. Sen. Cheek said, "Our state's children are our greatest resource, and I am proud the governor, LDH and my fellow legislators recognized the importance of keeping their best interests at the forefront. The prevalence of concussions in youth athletes is on the rise, which makes this effort so important right now. Education brings empowerment, and these new tools will provide an extra layer of protection for our children as we work together to prevent the long-term and sometimes deadly effects of youth concussions."
The Louisiana Emergency Response Network was created in 2004 to build a statewide coordinated system to respond to the daily demands of traumatic injury. LERN works closely with LDH, but is governed by a 28-member governing board representing first responders, medical professionals and community leaders.
"The members of the Louisiana Emergency Response Network's governing board see firsthand the devastating effects of head trauma on a regular basis," said Coletta Barrett, RN, FACHE, chairman of LERN Board of Directors. "While not all concussions are avoidable, we have more evidence than ever that there are things we can do to reduce the overall number of concussions and improve the environment in which our children engage in sporting activities. We are thrilled Senator Cheek, a LERN Board member, sponsored this legislation. The LERN Board, staff and Regional Commissions stand ready to help implement this life saving program."
Anytime a concussion is not properly recognized, evaluated and treated, there is a tremendous risk of long-term, chronic cognitive, physical and emotional symptoms.
Dr. Gina Lagarde, medical director for LDH's Office of Public Health, said, "Young athletes often feel obligated to stay in the game, regardless of their injuries. Unfortunately, they don't always realize that a few extra minutes on the field following a concussion can have serious, sometimes life-threatening consequences. Therefore, it is imperative that young athletes, parents, and coaches are educated on the risks of concussions and other head trauma, and young athletes should be encouraged to speak up when they've been injured."
Under Act 314, the governing authority of each public and nonpublic elementary school, middle school, junior high school, and high school, as well as each private club or public recreation facility and each athletic league which sponsors youth athletic activities will:
- Provide information to all coaches, officials, volunteers, youth athletes and their parents or legal guardian, prior to beginning of each athletic season, informing them of the nature and risk of concussion and head injury, including the risks associated with continuing to play after a concussion or head injury.
- Require each coach and every official of a youth athletic activity that involves interscholastic play to complete an annual concussion recognition education course.
- Require youth athletes and their parent or guardian to sign a concussion and head injury information sheet informing them of the statutory requirements for an athlete who has or is suspected to have suffered a concussion or head injury to return to play.
To help coaches and administrators comply with this law, LDH and LERN worked together to build an easy-to-access, one-stop-shop website for all the educational materials, training and forms developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they need to educate themselves, their parents and their youth athletes on this critical public health issue.
To access these materials and learn more about the Louisiana Youth Concussion Act, go to lern.la.gov/concussions. For specific questions call the LERN Central Office at (225) 756-3440.