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Letter to The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

Location: Washington, DC

In a continuing commitment to protect America's student-athletes from the dangers of sports-related concussions, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8), U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) urged U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to implement provisions of the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools (ConTACT) Act.

In a letter to Secretary Sebelius, the four lawmakers requested the Secretary to begin developing national guidelines for the management of sports-related concussions and to help facilitate states developing their own protocols according to those guidelines. These provisions were included in the ConTACT ACT, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 30 with Rep. Pascrell as its primary sponsor. Senator Menendez was the primary sponsor of the legislation in the U.S. Senate.

"In recent years, there has been a much greater degree of public awareness about the dangers of sports related concussions. But awareness isn't enough. That's why we are calling upon Secretary Sebelius to take action," said Pascrell, a House Ways and Means Committee member who founded and co-chairs the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. "We want federal standards for parents, coaches, athletic trainers, doctors -- anyone who may be entrusted with the care of a young athlete -- to know how to prevent and respond to concussions, and to know when it's safe for athletes who have sustained concussions to return to the ball field. Some states have taken the initiative to provide some protections, but providing federal standards will give these protections to all student-athletes throughout the nation."

"If a pro football player shows concussion symptoms during the Super Bowl this weekend, he will have access to the best training staffs, team doctors and top-notch diagnostic equipment to protect his health. Meanwhile, our sons and daughters who play school sports are just as susceptible to concussions but have only a fraction of the protection," said Sen. Menendez. "Our children should be able to focus on achieving their goals on the field without having to worry about the effects of a concussion off the field. We need to make sure that the most advanced strategies are being implemented for our high school and middle school athletes."

"This Super Bowl Sunday, countless young athletes will dream of someday playing in the big game themselves. We can help keep those dreams -- and the rest of their dreams for the future -- alive by better protecting them against sports-related concussions," said Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "Youth sports are a great way to promote physical activity and build leadership skills, but we owe it to our kids to keep them safe while they play. Developing federal concussion management guidelines for coaches, parents, trainers, and fellow students will go a long way towards preventing needless injuries and deaths among our student athletes."

The text of the letter to Secretary Sebelius follows:

February 3, 2011

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius,

We are writing to share our concern with the growing number of concussions in school-aged children and to support the implementation of the Concussion Treatment and Care Tools Act (ConTACT Act), H.R. 1347/S. 2840, which passed the House of Representatives unanimously on September 30th, 2010.

Since the passage of the Traumatic Brain Injury Act of 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied brain injury and has initiated various educational initiatives such as the Heads Up program to address concussions in school sports. Unfortunately, recent studies show that the problem of concussions in youth sports is only increasing and we agree that we must take action to reduce the needless injuries and deaths that student athletes face today.

We appreciate the support and technical assistance provided by the Department of Health and Human Services during consideration the ConTACT Act in the 111th Congress. We are also glad to know that the Department is supportive of additional action to protect our children and we support the implementation of these initiatives to reduce the risks inherent in sports for school-aged children.

As you may be aware, the first, most time-sensitive action item in the ConTACT Act would be to develop concussion management guidelines for youth and disseminate them to school administrators, coaches, parents, and students, as well as health professionals who treat the affected students. As stated in the ConTACT Act, we believe a conference of medical, athletic, and educational stakeholders would be an ideal first step in the development of the guidelines. In regard to the second part of the bill, it is important that CDC encourage state health agencies to support collaboration amongst youth sports associations, brain injury associations, and athletic trainer associations to help implement their own concussion policies informed by the federal guidelines. In doing so, it is our hope that students will be better protected both in school sports, and other after-school athletic activities.

In order to facilitate congressional oversight of this important issue, we would request that you identify what actions you plan to take to implement the provisions relating to concussion management guidelines and collaboration among all of the interested stakeholders. As part of your response, please also include a time line identifying when you plan to take specific action.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to receiving your response.


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