Mar 13, 2017
Clear Guidelines

This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Training & Conditioning.

On Nov. 17, Travis Greenlaw, a former athletic trainer for Spectrum Healthcare in Grand Rapids, Mich., was sentenced to prison for taking photos and videos of female clients in his care, as well as for inappropriate touching. Some of those images were of student-athletes at Kent City (Mich.) High School.

Greenlaw’s July arrest served as a huge wake-up call for Kent City-and all schools. In response, administrators at Kent City and Spectrum Health developed a list of students’ rights and expectations that pertain to receiving care from athletic trainers. The guidelines have been well-received and can serve as a template for other schools to prevent similar abuse from happening again.

“Most kids trust authority figures, especially in a school setting, and they’re generally not going to question something an athletic trainer tells them to do,” says Kent City Superintendent Mike Weiler. “For example, one of our students with scoliosis said Greenlaw told her to take off her shirt and bra. Now, that’s not necessary to do a treatment for scoliosis, but how would she know that? He’s supposedly there to help her, so she’s going to do what he says.”

The guidelines are intended to provide student-athletes with a clear and concise set of expectations for their interactions with athletic trainers. They include:

• You have a right to confidentiality and modesty during evaluation and treatment.

• You have the right to have a parent/guardian or an adult of the same sex present during evaluation and treatment.

• Appropriate attire must be worn in the athletic training room. This includes shorts and a tank top during evaluation or treatment.

• No electronic devices are to be used in the athletic training room unless for clinical purposes.

• Photos/videos will only be taken with prior written informed consent. Consent must be from a parent or legal guardian if the student is a minor.

• You should expect that the athletic trainer will conduct themselves in a professional manner that is consistent with the NATA Code of Ethics and the Spectrum Health Code of Excellence.

While these rules may seem obvious to clinicians, they are often not as apparent to student-athletes-especially those who haven’t had prior experience with athletic trainers. In fact, Greenlaw might not have gotten caught had an adult patient in a clinical setting not complained about seeing a phone where she didn’t expect one to be.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know that any of this would have come out if Greenlaw didn’t work outside the school,” Weiler says. “I feel badly that we didn’t have any expectations in place before, but it’s better to have them now than to not have them at all.”

Originally, Kent City administrators planned to write the guidelines themselves, but Spectrum Health offered to come up with a first draft. Weiler reviewed the list, along with high school Principal Bill Crane and Athletic Director Jason Vogel. They were pleased with the results, yet insisted on one significant change.

“Spectrum Health suggested that students contact the clinic’s patient relations department to report any concerns, but we wanted the first point of contact to be someone at Kent City, like an athletic director, administrator, or coach,” Weiler says. “We think the likelihood of a student reporting something is much greater if they’re directed first to someone they know.”

By the time Kent City students reported for fall sports, the guidelines were posted around all athletic facilities, including the athletic training room. “Coaches explained them at team meetings, and we passed them out at our parents’ meeting,” says Weiler. “Athletes told us it was nice to have guidance on this topic because they weren’t sure what the rules were for athletic trainers. And parents were appreciative that we took this step.”

Spectrum Health has also posted the guidelines at more than 50 schools it works with in western Michigan, and Weiler hopes they can be used by even more schools to avoid the pain and suffering his community has experienced. “This kind of thing can happen anywhere,” he says. “But by educating student-athletes about what should and shouldn’t occur in the athletic training room, maybe we can keep it from happening again somewhere else.”

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