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Published on December 04, 2015

St. Vincent's partners with Clay schools in new sports medicine program

By Teresa Stepzinski, Florida Times-Union

Clay County middle and high school student athletes should benefit from a comprehensive sports medicine program initiated by St. Vincent’s Clay County medical center in an effort to prevent injuries, and reduce the severity of those that do occur.

St. Vincent’s has created a partnership with the Clay County school district, Preferred Physical Therapy and Southeast Orthopedic Specialists placing certified athletic trainers at the district’s six middle and seven high schools in the newly minted program that also includes educational sessions and medical supplies.

“More than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable,” said Blain Claypool, president of Acute Care for St. Vincent’s HealthCare. “St. Vincent’s is investing nearly a quarter million dollars into this program to protect these middle and high school student athletes and arm them with knowledge.”

The program provides:

■ A certified athletic trainer in each high school and one certified athletic trainer for every two middle schools.

■ Educational sessions for school officials and students about sports-related topics.

■ $1,000 in medical supplies for each middle and high school.

“Ultimately, we think our comprehensive collaboration will become a model for other communities,” Claypool said.

The partnership, launched Oct. 1., is unique to Clay County. St. Vincent’s doesn’t have the program in any other Northeast Florida school system, said Kyle Sieg, spokesman for St. Vincent’s HealthCare.

St. Vincent’s Clay County is providing its clinical expertise for the educational sessions, as well as the medical supplies for the program. In addition, St. Vincent’s Ambulance Service is providing ambulances on standby at all middle school football games.

Southeast Orthopedic Specialists provides medical direction for the program, while athletic trainers from Preferred Physical Therapy will tailor their schedules to the specific needs of the schools they serve, according to the program.

School district Superintendent Charlie Van Zant Jr. praised St. Vincent’s for creating the partnership that he said “is designed to make our student athletes safer, more educated and more prepared for their bright futures, inside and outside of organized sports.”

The district, Van Zant also said, is “dedicated to providing students with learning opportunities beyond the school walls.”

The county School Board on Nov. 17 recognized St. Vincent’s, Claypool and Tracy Williams, chief operating officer of Acute Care for St. Vincent’s HealthCare, for commitment to the community and the school system as illustrated by the sports medicine partnership.

St. Vincent’s opened its 64-bed Clay County medical center in Middleburg two years ago. Claypool said the idea for the sports medicine program evolved over the past year when he and Williams sat down with school district leaders to figure out what the hospital could do for the county and “how can we make sure our kids are supported.” Subsequently, they decided to build on the sports medicine support to the district’s athletic program being provided by Preferred Physical Therapy, Claypool said.

“They had done an amazing job supporting the athletic program, supporting football. But we wanted to go bigger,” Claypool said. In working with Preferred and the district “over the course of a year, we really designed a program that focuses on prevention, focuses on keeping on our kids healthy,” he said.

Williams, also a certified athletic trainer and physical therapist, detailed the program and its goals for the board. They are working closely with district coaches and athletic directors as well as Preferred’s athletic trainers, and Southeast Orthopedic Specialists as the medical director, to standardize some of the testing done regarding detection of concussions prior to the start of sports, and ensuring they have all the right sports physicals done.

A major objective, she said, is attaining certification as a “Safe Sports School” through the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. That designation recognizes schools that take the crucial steps to keep their athletes free from injuries.

“Our goal is that we would certify every school in the county and be the first county in the United States that would have all schools certified with the Safe Sports School designation,” Williams said. Clay County could become the model for that program, she also said.

St. Vincent’s Clay County broke ground in late May on its $33.1 million expansion, which will double the size of its medical center. It is adding maternity and women’s services, 30 inpatient beds, 13 treatment rooms in the emergency department and a shell to add 30 more beds in the future. St. Vincent’s plans to begin hiring in late spring 2016 to fill more than 100 new positions in a variety of fields, both clinical and non-clinical.

The other major medical facilities in Clay County are Orange Park Medical Center in Orange Park, and Baptist Health on Fleming Island, which is seeking state approval to build a new hospital with up to 100 acute care beds at its current site in an estimated $70 million to $80 million project.

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