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Hospital unhappy with split trainer contract
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With two local sports medicine providers offering to serve Effingham County schools, the Board of Education compromised.

The school board voted 4-1 to split the duties between the two, with Effingham Health System serving Effingham County middle and high schools and OptimOrthopedics providing for South Effingham middle and high schools.

"I’m pretty pleased," Doug Andrews, OptimOrthopedics’ director of sports medicine, said after the meeting.

The Effingham Health System contingent, however, was much less satisfied — and much more vocal.

"We are very disappointed that the Effingham County Board of Education does not see the benefit of honoring an already-established relationship with the Effingham Health System to give gratis a comprehensive sports medicine program for all of the students of Effingham County," Effingham Health System CEO Norma Jean Morgan said to board members immediately after their decision.

Effingham Health and Optim presented proposals to the school board last month. Effingham Health System has been providing athletic trainers and sports medicine to the school district, at a cost of $40,000; however, both the EHS and OptimOrthopedics proposals included no such fee.

"That was certainly great news for us, especially going through a budget year like we’re having this year," Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. "We do feel like our kids will get the services they need from both of these organizations. I don’t have any fear about that."

Mose Mock cast the board’s lone dissenting vote, saying he wanted "to fully support the hospital" because "our county has a very large investment in the hospital, not only financially but also emotionally.

"This affiliation goes further than just sports medicine," Mock said. "They do so much for us, with assessments, physicals for our children, and also workplace learning."

After the meeting, Morgan called Mock "a man of integrity."

"He stood up for what he believed was right and he was not swayed by personal preferences," she said, "but what he knew to be right for the students of the county."

In their proposals, both companies offered full-time athletic trainers for the county’s two high schools. Savannah-based Optim touted its ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) computerized concussion evaluation system, while Effingham Health pointed to its "comprehensive" sports medicine program and close ties to the Effingham community.

"We’re constantly hearing, ‘we want to keep Effingham in Effingham,’" Dr. James Cornwell, chief of Effingham Health System’s medical staff, said after the meeting. "It just doesn’t make sense (to divide the sports medicine services), when you’ve got a local hospital, local physicians, local people that care, local control, keeping it in the county, where they want it to stay. It needs to stay here."

Effingham Health System’s two team physicians — Cornwell and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Mudano have several years’ experience in sports medicine, including Mudano’s five years as team doctor for the Tampa Yankees, a Class-A minor league affiliate of the New York Yankees. Mudano said that experience would benefit Effingham County students not only on the field, but on the sidelines and in the training room as well.

"The students lost out today too, because we would have a student training program where high school kids could follow (EHS Sports Medicine Coordinator) Joe Tallent and his staff and learn how to be athletic trainers and maybe go to college and want to major in that," Mudano said.

Dr. David Palmer and his OptimOrthopedics staff boasted of their experience as well. Andrews said in his proposal last month that Optim provides athletic training and team physician services for 16 high schools in southeast Georgia and the team physicians for Georgia Southern University, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah State University and the University of South Carolina-Beaufort.

Morgan described splitting the services as "unfair to the student-athletes" and told the board of education that "it is the desire of the Effingham Hospital Authority and medical staff to serve all of the student-athletes of Effingham County." The Effingham Health board of directors plans to meet to discuss whether it will support the school board’s plan.

"When you bring a hospital authority, a medical staff and 400 employees to the table, versus Dr. Palmer, we don’t understand (the school board’s decision)," Morgan said. "I don’t even know why we’re having this conversation."