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Free concussion program provided to area schools
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Free concussion program provided to area schools

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Saunders Medical Center

CONCUSSION AID: Saunders Medical Center Head Athletic Trainer Rachel Hall looks at the return-to-play tracker on the EXLTBrain program at SMC in Wahoo on Friday. Hall presented the new program replacing the ImPACT program which had become invalid for high school students growth. The new program provides support for parents, students, coaches, healthcare providers and teachers. (Staff Photo by Elsie Stormberg

WAHOO – This past August, Saunders Medical Center Head Athletic Trainer Rachel Hall was about to administer final ImPACT baseline concussion tests for two Wahoo Public football players when she learned that the Nebraska Sport Concussion Network dropped all Nebraska schools. 

With CHI Health paying a majority of the funds for the programming, SMC paid dues to belong to the network. Hall said CHI planned to only finance the concussion program for a few years, but ended up financing it for 10 years before their funds ended. 

Hall, who’s originally from Morse Bluff, chalked up the abruptive end to the program to the pandemic forcing CHI’s hand, but this put schools in a tough spot, she said. In order for athletes to take their baseline concussion tests, the school would have to purchase an ImPACT Testing license which could cost them anywhere from $500 to $1,000.

“It kind of got the wheels turning,” Hall said.

With other Saunders County schools in the area also experiencing this, Hall began working with Family Clinic Director Stacie Sabatka and Dr. Hank Newburn to find another option for baseline testing as well as better concussion support in general. 

In 2019, Columbus Community Hospital piloted a program called XLNTBrain Online Concussion Testing which provides a series of different benefits including educational videos, remote testing, balance testing, daily symptom checklist, sideline app and academic accommodations for teachers and visual tracking of return to play. 

With Columbus’s recommendation, Hall presented it to SMC. She said if all schools in the county were to participate, it would cost SMC about $5,000 and the schools nothing. 

Nothing is set in stone yet, Hall said, but SMC has had a lot of interest from schools and their athletic trainers. She hopes to launch the program in January with any schools that are interested, but some schools have already purchased ImPACT programming for the year which means they might not start until the 2021-2022 school year.

Hall said that she had wanted to switch programs even earlier because the ImPACT program had become invalid for concussion testing. Simply put, the test didn’t vary as much or grow with students as they develop. 

“If you look at their mental maturity and how their brain develops year from year, just think of a high school freshman to a high school junior,” Hall said. “They take it so often they have a learning effect to it.” 

The previous program also did not provide the same level of communication and accommodation for all parties like XLNTBrain does. Not only does it help coaches and athletes to know when to return to play through a visual tracker, it also supplements parents with factual information through an educational video and sends messages to teachers about academic accommodations. 

Students can also take their tests remotely and utilize a daily symptom checklist which helps to relieve many school nurses, Hall said. 

XLNTBrain also has a balance test where a student holds their cell phone to their chest, closes their eyes and conducts different motions to test their equilibriums. 

Not only does this protect students from slipping through the cracks, it also protects schools by maintaining certain requirements by law. 

“This is just a safety tool,” Hall said.  

In 2012, the Concussion Awareness Act became a law in Nebraska. It requires that coaches, athletes and parents be provided with concussion education, athletes must be removed from play under any reasonable suspicion and that when athletes are returned to play it must be approved by a licensed healthcare professional and a parent or guardian. 

The act was also amended in 2014 to include a fourth requirement in regards to returning to school and the different accommodations an athlete may need. It mandates a school to create a return-to-learn protocol. 

The program is available for more than just high school athletes. Hall said SMC can be utilized for anyone at any age who has sustained a concussion. 

“I can also be available for the non-athletes,” Hall said. “Kids fall off bikes, they fall out of trees, they hit their heads on thermostats. There’s a lot of falling off horses around here.”

At the root of it all is Hall. 

“I will be a resource to the school as well, so they have a contact person,” Hall said. “Schools can train someone to help administer a test or that. But oftentimes there’s no one that they can fall back on.”

Hall said she can also be a source to healthcare providers since the program will alert her if a patient comes in with a concussion. 

This was a perfect opportunity to not only focus on her two passions, the head and the heart, Hall said. It also was a great time for her to show an athletic trainer’s range of ability. 

“Most people when they think of an athletic trainer they think we wrap ice bags and tape, but we do a lot more than that,” Hall said.

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