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Local schools to lose athletic trainers after program is cut

At a time when certified athletic trainers are more important than they have ever been at schools, 18 local high schools and two colleges are scrambling to fill positions after Community Healthcare System announced Tuesday that it will be discontinuing its program effective June 27.

"It puts the schools in a bad position," said East Chicago Central ACT Tom Barkoski, one of about 30 athletic trainers impacted by the move. "We're three weeks from (prep) sports starting. Who's going to protect the thousands of athletes?"

Barkoski was a part of the group who were put on furlough April 5 when the spring sports season was cancelled Indiana, but that didn't diminish the surprise of the decision, which they learned of last week.

"Everybody I've talked to, they didn't see it coming," Barkoski said. "I think it caught us all by surprise. We understood when there weren't any sports going on. We were just waiting for them to let us know when we were going to return. I figured I'd return to East Chicago on July 1, working to protect the student-athletes, then they told us that the program wasn't creating revenue, so it was going to be cut. I believe the people making the decisions don't understand what an athletic trainer truly is."

In a prepared statement, John Doherty, the Vice President for Therapy Services, Sports Medicine & Occupational Health at Community Healthcare System, called the COVID-19 pandemic 'unprecedented,' requiring them to evaluate services offered to both patients and the community.

"After careful consideration and analysis, we have made the very difficult decision to no longer offer athletic training services through our hospitals," Doherty said. "We have greatly valued our athletic training partnership with local schools. Should the school chose to continue an athletic training program on their own, we fully support the athletic trainers securing a position with their school."

At Hebron, Dan Barber, who was in his fourth year with the school, had already ordered thermometers and sanitizing materials for the school.

"A trainer at the high school level, they really value the kids," Hawks Athletic Director John Steinhilber said. "We work together all the time. You want to hold on to your guys as long as you can because once they're gone, they can be hard to get back."

Steinhilber estimated that the cost to hire Barber independent of a hospital affiliation would be roughly double what they pay now, which he put in the range of $15,000 to $20,000.

"It depends on the deals they have with the schools," Steinhilber said. "I'd be much more panicked about this if I was an A.D. with football."

Several hospitals around the northern Indiana area provide athletic training services to schools and Steinhilber said Hebron is looking at the possibility of Barber contracting through one of them. The program, he added, can also be state funded if a school offers athletic training as a vocational class. Additionally, athletic trainers can work independent of an affiliation as long as they are approved by a doctor to do so.

"We're pursuing some avenues," Steinhilber said. "We're going to try to take care of our guy, like everybody else would."

"Nobody can predict what's going to happen," Barber said. "There are already places across the country who have made cuts. How bad are they going to be? How long are they going to be. Obviously, there's a lot to iron out. We'll wait and see how it plays out. I'm hopeful things pick back up. Hebron has been very good to me. I love being there, the entire staff, the kids. I'm working with John. He's doing everything he can and I hope they can figure something out financially to get me to stay. It's obviously my first choice, but if it doesn't work out, I have bills to pay, too, that would have to take priority."

Barkoski said that E.C. Central A.D. Monica Maxwell has made the school board aware of the issue in hopes of retaining him, but he's not optimistic of his chances to remain there.

"I've talked to some athletic trainers and the various schools have let the coaches and student-athletes we know that we're not coming back," said Barkoski, who is in his second year there. "We're a preventative profession. We're trying to prevent injuries. It can save athletes and parents thousands of dollars, but that doesn't convert to revenue (for hospitals)."

The following schools are impacted by the move: Bishop Noll, Calumet College, Hammond Clark, East Chicago, East Porter County (Kouts, Morgan Township and Washington Township), Hammond Gavit, Griffith, Hammond, Hanover Central, Hammond Academy, Hebron, Highland, Lake Central, Lake Station, Hammond Morton, Munster, Purdue Northwest and Whiting. They comprise an estimated 3,000 athletes.



Dan Barber, Hebron's athletic trainer for four years, was one of roughly 30 athletic trainers working at local high schools and colleges as part of a Community Healthcare System program. The organization will be discontinue the service June 27, leaving schools in a bind at a critical time with COVID-19 issues to account for as they aim to start practices July 1.

(Photo courtesy of Hebron Athletics)

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