IU Changes Policy After Athletes' Malpractice Claims

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A complaint filed by former Indiana University rower Katlin Beck to the state Department of Insurance against IU doctors Andy Hipskind, Michael LaGrange and Ashlee Warren, all of whom treated Beck for a back injury sustained in her freshman year, has led the university to implement major sports medicine program reform. 

The complaint, which was a primary step leading to a malpractice suit, was the result of three different diagnoses of Beck’s pain by the university’s doctors, ranging from exercises to work tight hamstring muscles to resting for the summer in a back brace for lower spinal fractures.

After enduring the pain for over a year, Beck finally went outside of university directives to see a personal physician, spinal specialist Dr. Greg Poulter. Poulter advised Beck to stop rowing immediately, contrary to the advice of all three university medical staffers.

In an interview to ESPN, Poulter said Beck “no longer has a solid connection from her lower back to her pelvis.  "Her upper body is no longer firmly connected to her lower body. There's just scar tissue holding that together."

Poulter told ESPN that Beck’s spinal stress fracture is a common injury that an athletic trainer should be able to recognize. Without taking the proper time to rest, the injury can result in a permanent spinal weakness requiring a spinal fusion surgery.

According to Beck, it took around 20 requests to IU medical staff before she was taken for an MRI on her back, and after that coaches seemed to begrudge her the time she was prescribed to rest. She says one coach set a meeting with several injured rowers and belittled their contribution.

"[He] said he didn't have room for injured people on his team and so we needed to get in there and work out with the rest of the girls or hit the road," said Beck. "And there were about three girls who got up and went in the room and started working out against their doctors' orders."

Fellow IU athletes Nick Carovillano, Zander Diamont and Dominique Booth have corroborated Beck’s story, citing their own difficulties in obtaining imaging tests for injuries and having serious injuries overlooked or ridiculed by IU staff.

Beck’s formal complaint seems to hint at an underlying problem of the university’s athletics culture, which has been characterized as displaying a pattern of delays, neglect and failure to recognize and treat severe injuries.

Complaints made by Beck as well as former defensive lineman Carovillano have resulted in some decisive actions on the part of the university to address the pervading problem. An investigation launched in 2015 resulted in the dismissal of football coach Kevin Wilson due to his treatment of injured athletes.

Several IU athletes had reported feeling isolated from the team and were denied certain athlete benefits such as new team gear while they were recovering from injuries. Former wide receiver Diamont told ESPN that medical staff seemed to “walk on eggshells” around the coaches and did not stand up for the athletes.

Next month, Indiana University will take another responsive step towards correcting the issue, by restructuring the sports medicine program to increase team doctor accountability. Hopskind, the current chief medical officer, will be moved into the jurisdiction of the athletic department.

This action comes at the same time as an update to NCAA medical care legislation, which gives doctors and athletic trainers the last word in athletes’ medical care, without allowing input from coaches.

NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline told ESPN, “A coach is part of the entire support staff when it comes to medical decision-making. But a coach should have no role whatsoever in influencing any type of medical decision-making.”

Following the university’s response, Beck withdrew her formal complaint last month. Her main goal, she said, was to hold the university accountable for the culture of its athletic department, and she feels that goal has been accomplished.

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