JACKSON – Beginning at 7 a.m. on Saturday, May 15th, nearly 300 family practice physicians, orthopaedic surgeons, dentists, ophthalmologists, athletic trainers and physical therapists will be ready to usher some 4,000 high school athletes through free health screenings at the Mississippi Trademart.
“We have the process so fine-tuned that schools come through by appointment, and are usually out of here within an hour,” said Bob Lodes, administrator of Mississippi Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, PLLC, in Jackson, sponsor of the event. “It`s a fast-paced production line, and we’re seeing about 800 kids an hour. Yet we have the system so perfected, we`ll probably be finished by 2 p.m.”
The “big physicals,” as they’re referred to in-house, are given to Mississippi public and private school athletes competing in fall sports. The physicals include screenings for general health, bone and joint, dental, vision, and flexibility problems. For many athletes, the screening will serve as their sole source for preventive diagnosis.
“We started the free health screening day at our place in 1988, four years after Mississippi Sports Medicine was established, and moved to the Trademart in the early ’90s when the event became so popular,” said Lodes. “At one point, we were probably the only ones in the state offering free health screenings, so we were drawing about 5,500 athletes from high schools 120 to 140 miles away. Over a period of time, local physicians began offering free physicals in their areas, which was terrific for rural athletes, so we don`t draw as many schools from remote areas. Instead, now we draw about 3,800 to 4,200 junior and high students from some 60 schools within a 60 mile-radius.”
About 270 volunteers will work the event, including 85 staff members at Mississippi Sports Medicine. Baptist Health Systems will provide an echocardiogram machine. Cardiovascular Associates, P.A., will provide cardiologists to perform echocardiograms and to evaluate heart conditions. Last year, about 80 echocardiograms were done. The value of the day`s free medical services is estimated at about $200,000.
“Normally, it would cost about $800 for an echocardiogram and physician consultation if something sounded wrong with the student`s heart,” said Woody Barnett, athletic director for Pearl High School, who will bus about 250 student athletes to the event. “Some kids could not afford that for sure, so it`s a huge service to them.”
The event began as a community service project but has evolved into “a healing process,” said Lodes.
“Many of these kids, especially from inner-city schools, have never seen a dentist or had their eyes examined,” he said. “We know a lot of these kids won`t be coming back to our place. We’re not doing it to recruit business. We’re doing it to give back to the community.”
Hal Lusk, athletic director for Jackson Public Schools, who oversees eight high schools and 10 middle schools, said the service is very beneficial to Jackson families.
“It`s a big help to anybody, whether they can afford it or not, because it`s a relief to know there`s a day to get in and get out without having to make a doctor`s appointment,” he said. “Everybody would probably find a way to get a physical. I don`t think we’d leave a child out that couldn`t afford one. Mississippi Sports Medicine does us a great service for providing physicals for all of our people, from the seventh grade on. They’re all star athletes in our book.”
Because of litigation concerns, athletes must present liability waivers signed by parents before health screenings can take place.
“It causes some sensitive moments for us when students come through without the properly signed forms,” said Lodes. “It`s not a problem for the 40% of student athletes who come through with a parent, but it can be a problem for the other 60% who are bused in with their coaches and do not have access to a parental signature.”
A legal statement adopted by state lawmakers is incorporated into the waiver statement.
“It basically says that if you volunteer to give a physical, you’re not liable for anything other than negligence,” said Mike Wilkinson, head athletic trainer for Mississippi Sports Medicine.
Walk-ups will not be allowed to receive free health screenings; student athletes must be scheduled through their school. For more information, parents or coaches may contact Mike Wilkinson at Mississippi Sports Medicine at (601) 354-4488.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.