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Athletic trainers renew push for state licensing requirement

When Phil LoNigro’s heart stopped beating as he officiated a scholastic football game last month on Long Island, the certified athletic trainers for the participating high schools rushed to his aid and helped save his life.

Dan DeSimone of East Meadow High School performed chest compressions while Phil Fandale of Farmingdale High School prepared, and then applied, a portable defibrillator. Together they were able to regain a pulse.

Members of the New York State Athletic Trainers’ Association say the incident is a prime example of why they are asking the state legislature to finally pass legislation that would require licensure of all athletic trainers.

“Under the current law, athletes in New York are at risk of being treated by an under-qualified person claiming to be an athletic trainer,” said Arturo Flores, president of the NYSATA. “It is crucial for athletic trainers to be licensed so New York State can ensure all those that are practicing as athletic trainers have met the educational, certification, exam and continuing education requirements.”

New York currently requires that an athletic trainer complete accredited certification testing in order to use the term “certified” in a title or description. But certification is not a requirement for someone to say they are an athletic trainer.

The legislation would make licensure mandatory for anyone who says they are an athletic trainer.

“That means the public can be assured that nobody who calls themselves an athletic trainer isn’t one,” said Trevor Cramer, director of athletic training outreach for UR Medicine Sports Medicine, which provides certified trainers to 22 Rochester area high schools. “They can be assured the person has received training at an accredited university and passed a national licensing examination.”

The push for licensure seems to be made every year, but so far neither the state Senate nor the Assembly have moved the bill from committee to the floor for a vote.

Part of the issue is specific language dealing with scope of practice. The New York Physical Therapy Association (NYPTA) fears the wording of the bill would create overlapping of duties. In some ways, it’s a turf war.


The athletic trainers’ association believes they are moving closer to a truce with physical therapists, however.

“That is a group that we have a lot of overlapping skills with and a lot of overlapping scope, and we’ve worked with them on language,” said Deanna Errico, co-chair of the NYSATA’s government affairs committee. “We used to say they had four pages of opposition and we’re down to one page.”

Not so, the NYPTA said through a spokesperson.

“The New York Physical Therapy Association (NYPTA) remains opposed to the current version of the legislation. NYTPA provided the New York State Athletic Trainers’ Association with specific feedback to the legislation based on what the Association represented as the intent of the bill. To say that we have fewer objections is inaccurate.

“That said, we have no intention of negotiating the bill in the press, and look forward to continuing to work with the sponsors, higher education chairs, and the New York State Athletic Trainers’ Association to develop language that best protects the public health, safety and welfare.”

Oversight and funding also are issues that have blocked advancement of the bill. The state education department would be required to oversee licensing and compliance for schools.

“The political will to make a big change or shift in terms of licensing has always been a difficult thing to do,” said Kristin Williams, deputy chief of staff for state Senator Rachel May (D-Syracuse), sponsor of the Senate bill. “These bills, for some reason, are some of the most difficult to get through committee and then onto the floor, and part of that I believe is the ability of the education department to handle the challenge of taking on a new license or making those changes and making sure they are solid and legally defensible.

“But there’s also a challenge for the department in terms of their own ability to maintain the proper regulation of those licenses. That takes manpower, takes a lot of staff, and SED (state education department) does a great job with the resources they have, but I think they really could use more resources to do this kind of work with licensing of these professions.”

Nonetheless, the NYSATA says change is a necessity. The wording regarding the scope of practice is archaic, athletic trainers say, because it hasn’t been updated since the original certification bill passage in 1992.

“It says we can’t manage neurological conditions,” Cramer said. “Well, a concussion is a neurologic condition. If a football player has a concussion, who on the sideline is best equipped to deal with it? If a hockey player goes head-first into the boards and suffers a spinal injury, who at the rink can deal with it? We’re the first responders. We’re the ones who are best trained to handle the situation.”

The athletic trainers at East Meadow and Farmingdale high schools proved that point last month.

“We can’t afford one individual working in a high school setting that is not educated properly to be there,” said Craig Olejinczak, co-chair of the secondary schools committee for the NYSATA.

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