Penn State football: Sports Illustrated story questions medical care; university disputes allegations

tjohnson@centredaily.comMay 14, 2013 

— Penn State is disputing a Sports Illustrated story that hit newsstands Wednesday, calling the magazine’s characterization of the football program’s medical care programs “erroneous.”

The story casts Director of Athletics David Joyner in a negative light and implies Penn State football players do not have the same access to immediate, on-site care on a daily basis they used to have before the athletic department announced changes to its medical staff in February.

Then, longtime team physician and surgeon Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli was removed from those positions and replaced by Dr. Peter Seidenberg — an associate professor of orthopedics and a primary care sports medicine physician for Penn State Hershey’s orthopedic practice in State College — as team physician. Meanwhile, Dr. Scott Lynch — an associate professor of orthopedics and director of orthopedics sports medicine at Penn State Hershey Medical Center — was appointed team surgeon.

Sebastianelli is still the director of athletic medicine at Penn State.

“Access to urgent and quality care for our athletes is no less than where it was at any point in the past 20 years,” Penn State assistant athletic director of communications Jeff Nelson told the Centre Daily Times Tuesday night. “We provided Sports Illustrated with facts and data that demonstrate our commitment to our student-athletes and how we compare to other peer institutions. Instead the article sensationalizes in order to insinuate lower standards and largely ignores statements from the dean of the College of Medicine.”

The story, written by Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein, also relies on a narrative that describes a fierce personal rivalry between Sebastianelli and Joyner — who allegedly wanted the position Sebastianelli was appointed to in 1992.

Joyner declined comment to Sports Illustrated and Sebastianelli did not comment about Joyner for the story.

“It’s terribly unfortunate some want to make baseless accusations. We refuse to engage in such a conversation. The vast majority of Penn Staters want the focus to be on our dedicated student-athletes, as it should be,” Joyner said in a statement to Sports Illustrated and later obtained by the Centre Daily times.

Epstein’s story sources former dean of Penn State’s College of Medicine, Mac Evarts, and former chair of Penn State’s department of orthopedics Vincent Pellegrini. Former Penn State players Michael Robinson and Brandon Short also commented, questioning Sebastianelli’s removal.

Other unnamed sources are used.

The story also alleges current head athletic trainer Tim Bream, whom Joyner hired to replace George Salvaterra in February 2012 after the two had served on the U.S. Olympic team’s staff at the 1992 Olympic Games, “engaged in practices his predecessor did not.”

Three unnamed sources involved in health care for Penn State athletics told SI on the condition of anonymity that Bream provided players with the anti-inflammatory drug Voltaren without a prescription or doctor’s approval. They also said Bream gave a player Bentyl for diarrhea when the drug is actually used to treat irritable bowel syndrome.

Sources also alleged to SI that Bream, who does not have a medical degree, used an X-ray machine without proper certification, gave an inhaler to a player who does not suffer from asthma and lanced a boil on a player’s neck. Bream did not comment to SI for the story but Penn State released a statement shortly before the story’s release regarding the accusations against Bream.

“Questions and rumors about the head athletic trainer were investigated by an outside law firm in January,” the statement reads. “The trainer and supervisory physicians were interviewed. The legal team’s report concluded there was no credible or substantial evidence to support the allegations or rumors, and there was no wrongdoing or violation of any professional standards. The report also concluded that none of the physicians who supervise the head trainer had made or documented any contemporaneous complaints to anyone or discussed with the trainer any concerns about overstepping bounds of care. Mr. Bream is a respected and dedicated professional who provides care to hundreds of our student athletes.”

The story concludes Penn State football players do not have the same access to medical personnel they had at this time last year. O’Brien released a statement to SI for the story that reads:

“Dr. Seidenberg will attend our practices and Dr. Lynch will be here on game day. From a coverage standpoint, we have exactly the same level of medical care as we had previously. The same surgeons as last year are available to players who would need that level of attention. Nothing about our level or quality of athlete care has changed.”

In a packet of information provided to Sports Illustrated by Penn State and obtained by the CDT, College of Medicine Dean Dr. Harold Paz outlined the medical staff’s organization and response protocols since Seidenberg’s and Lynch’s hirings.

Lynch will meet weekly throughout the year with other members of the sports medicine staff and check on injured players, Paz said.

“We have three Penn State Hershey-employed orthopedic surgeons based in State College, including Dr. Sebastianelli, that are credentialed to perform surgery at Mount Nittany Medical Center,” Paz said in the statement. “One of those surgeons is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure surgical coverage in the event of such an emergency. In rare instances of extremely complex problems that require Level 1 trauma care, an athlete may be transported to Penn State Hershey Medical Center.”

Over the winter, Penn State reached out to other schools in order to compare and contrast and get a better handle on where its medical programs stood, university officials said. After gathering information and communicating with schools such as LSU, Alabama, Illinois and Ohio State, Penn State found that “the coverage our physicians are providing would be the same as, if not above, those four peer institutions,” Nelson said.

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