ENCINITAS — San Dieguito Union High School District’s new athletic training provider has come under fire by district parents for provisions in its contracts with its trainers that parents said create a conflict of interest.
The school district recently approved a contract with Kearny Mesa-based Rehab United to provide athletic training services for the district’s high school sports teams after parting ways with its longtime provider, the San Dieguito Sports Medicine Foundation, which is an offshoot of Gaspar Doctors of Physical Therapy.
The company contracts with independent athletic trainers to provide the services at the schools.
The contracts with the trainers contain provisions requiring the trainers to refer students with physical therapy or athletic screening needs to one of the company’s three facilities or have their contracts terminated.
The contracts also outline a compensation program in which trainers receive a 15 percent commission if they sign an athletics team up or the company’s other services, such as strength and conditioning programs or warm-up and injury prevention classes.
Parents argue that the clauses create conflicts of interest with trainers if they believe that another facility — or a hospital — would provide that student athlete with better injury care.
“The District has never informed parents that athletic trainers are contractually obligated to refer their injured athletes to Rehab United,” said Timothy Pickwell, a local attorney who has spearheaded the parent opposition to the contract.
The parents were originally protesting the decision by Rehab United to part ways with the school’s longtime athletic trainer, Christina Scherr.
“It is unseemly that parents are being asked to fund athletic trainers, and then the athletic trainers are being compensated in part by how much ‘up-selling’ they can do on a campus,” Pickwell said.
Michael West is the principal at Jurupa Valley High School in Riverside County and the president of the California Athletic Trainers Association.
West said while the practice of trainers referring students to their training facilities is not uncommon; such a termination clause is unique and — along with the practice of receiving a commission for selling services — create conflicts of interest.
“It really hinders what your decision making as a professional would be,” West said. “In the deciding moment of whether to make a referral or a decision, if you are making the decision based on a financial interest, that by definition is a conflict of interest.”
School District officials said they were unaware of the contract language, as they deal directly with the company, and not the relationship between the company and the trainers. Once learning about it, officials said they asked Hill about it, and Hill told them the company has never enforced the termination clause.
Still, school officials said they would look to have Rehab United remove the language.
“We have had direct conversations with them about the contracts and Bryan (Hill, co-founder and president of Rehab United) has assured us that he has reinforced with trainers many times that they are not being evaluated on that scale,” said Eric Dill, the school district’s associate superintendent of business services. “But it is something we will work with him on to remove those clauses so there is no question about it, and I think he would be open to that.”
Dill also said that parents met with Hill and district staff to express their concerns on Wednesday, and made some headway about potentially bringing Scherr back to the high school, but no decision had been reached.
The Coast News attempted to call Hill about the contract language, but he did not return the calls at the time of publication.