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Barnabas expands sports physical screenings to each of its hospitals

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Barnabas Health has said it pioneered cardiac and concussions screenings of New Jersey student athletes in 2010, and so far has conducted more than 7,000 screenings.

As a new state law takes effect Oct. 1 requiring cardiac screening during pre-sports physicals, Barnabas today announced it is expanding screenings to all six of its hospitals statewide.

The Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes at Barnabas Health will offer free and low-cost cardiac screenings and concussion testing at the six hospitals, and send mobile testing units to schools.

Barry Ostrowsky, chief executive of Barnabas Health, said by expanding the program, "We're making it easier and more convenient to access lifesaving preventative screenings and sports injury treatment delivered by top health care professionals."

Ostrowsky said these screenings are not covered by health insurance plans, which cover follow-up treatment if a medical issue is identified.

To date, the cost of screening has been partially covered by families, schools, sports clubs and philanthropy, and he said Barnabas has so far subsidized the program by several hundred thousand dollars.

Barnabas will continue to support the program, and he said it's unlikely screenings will be covered by health insurance: "Realistically, the tug on the insurance dollar is such that I'm not sure insurance companies would view this as something they would incorporate into benefit packages."

Ostrowsky said Barnabas hospitals "are significant health care providers in their communities, and a number of student-athletes have been treated in the emergency department in our hospitals. So it's a natural place for folks to look to get this kind of screening and follow up care if it's necessary."

Concussion screenings are offered to athletes ages 12 to 18, and cardiac screenings are offered to athletes ages 6 to 18.

According to Barnabas Health, nearly 90 percent of sudden cardiac deaths in young athletes occur during or after athletic activities, and hidden heart conditions often are the cause.

The widespread risk of concussions to football players is well documented. Last month, the National Football League has agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 players and their families.

Ostrowsky said he has played football, and believes that to reduce the risk, "you may have to change the game. I think you will have to teach techniques for the game that lead to fewer episodes of potential concussion."

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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