March 25, 2011|By Patrick Gorman | Guest columnist

March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month, so it was welcome news recently when doctors reported the remarkable progress Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords continues to make after being shot in the head during a public event barely two months ago.

“Gabby,” as the world now knows her, can talk in short sentences and walk with assistance. She is upbeat and focused on getting better, doctors said this month.

Even as well-wishers rejoiced at this hopeful outlook, news headlines somberly noted the passing of Dave Duerson, 50, a former NFL star defensive back who had retired to Florida. Duerson took his life last month, leaving a request to examine his brain tissue for evidence of a degenerative disease that has been linked to ex-football players who repeatedly suffered head injuries during their pro careers.

While these recent cases grabbed headlines because of the public figures involved, traumatic brain injury (TBI) can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Senior citizens who slip and fall, youth athletes bumping heads, returning soldiers injured in battle, car accident victims — millions of ordinary Americans have suffered from TBI. TBI has been called the silent epidemic because few Americans know its serious health risks or enormous treatment costs totaling billions of dollars annually.

In Florida, public awareness is growing on several fronts. The Brain Injury Association of Florida recently unveiled a statewide campaign highlighting the 100,000 Floridians who sustain brain injuries each year. As part of the campaign, the association launched Florida’s first Traumatic Brain Injury Resource & Support Center, providing one-stop access to a vast network of information, services, education and advocacy through a Web-based portal ( and a toll-free helpline (800-992-3442).

The nonprofit association, founded in 1985 by the mother of a TBI survivor, also has joined with the NFL and a statewide Sports Concussion Task Force to support bills in the Florida Legislature protecting youth athletes who sustain a concussion from returning to play prematurely.

More can be done. Florida could expand services to TBI survivors and families, lower costs and improve patient self-sufficiency by adopting a nationally recognized privatization model. It combines Web-based and telephone assistance for mild TBI cases with more intensive family support services for serious injuries.

States like Minnesota and Indiana report impressive results, returning more than half of TBI survivors to work or school within one year of their injuries. Vocational rehabilitation referrals grew by nearly one-third, and work-force productivity of TBI survivors increased by more than $31 million a year.

Under the state of Florida’s program structure, TBI survivors aren’t being adequately served or documented. For example, in 2009, only a fifth of the 19,000 TBI hospital admissions were tracked by the state’s central registry with just more than 1,000 served. That includes 330 Medicaid cases costing taxpayers more than $30,000 per patient.

Brain Injury Association contracts with the state to provide education, support and referral assistance to TBI survivors and their families. However, the state prevents access to its central registry and provides only a monthly list of closed cases of TBI survivors, many still needing assistance.

If Florida were to adopt a TBI privatization model, potential benefits include: expansion of services to TBI survivors and families; lower costs to the state and improvement in patient self-sufficiency; reduced state office costs by locating privatized workers in hospital trauma centers, giving TBI patients a direct pipeline to services; and increased probability of getting TBI survivors back to work sooner and off government assistance by focusing on symptom management.

At a minimum, Florida’s families would be better served if Florida maintained one registry for all TBI injuries and immediately provided case information to qualified TBI service providers. Early intervention prevents complications that could result in mild brain injuries getting worse. Let’s ensure that every TBI survivor gets prompt, professional assistance because it really does matter for all of us.

Patrick Gorman is a licensed psychologist in Winter Park and is chairman of the board for the Brain Injury Association of Florida.

Source : Orlando Sentinel