A FRIGHTENING DIAGNOSIS

THE MEDICAL DIRECTOR SAID ASU ADMINISTRATORS WERE ENDANGERING THE HEALTH OF STUDENT ATHLETES. THE DIRECTOR GOT FIRED. THE DANGER'S STILL THERE.

"The majority of [the player's] knee surgery, hospital expenses and rehabilitation were 'donated' by local facilities," Zonner said in a later memo.

In late August, Vollen sent a message to Christine Wilkinson, her immediate boss, questioning why the athletic department--which had so strenuously opposed the track team member's surgery, arguing that his condition was not athletically related--would devote so much effort to a basketball player whose injury clearly was not related to his participation in university athletics.

"Harris . . . worked out the student's lack of insurance by getting the hospital anesthesiologist and orthopedic surgeon to donate their time," Vollen wrote. "This is not a benefit that has been accorded other students. In fact, it is a request that has been repeatedly denied other students."
There were other conflicts between the doctors and the athletic department, records show. At one point, Zonner was chewed out for ordering a CAT scan on a football player injured during practice. He had to fight for permission to have a cardiologist examine another football player, who was found to require surgery to correct a potentially fatal heart defect.

A running dispute ensued over the procedure for announcing an athlete's confidential medical information to the news media without the player's consent.

In the fall of 1992, a female basketball player required knee surgery; Harris decided her condition was pre-existing and the university would not pay for the surgery, records show. Only after the woman's basketball head coach raised a stink did the department make arrangements for the female player corresponding to those it had made earlier for the male player.

One source in a position to observe most of the incidents says that, ultimately, no athletes suffered physical harm from the battles for control of medical policy. "Nothing happened, and [Harris] was very lucky," the source says. "It's [got] all [the] potential, still, for something to go seriously wrong."

@rule:
@body:By August 7, Harris had apparently decided he needed to strengthen his position over the team physician, internal documents show.

He called Zonner into his office. Even though Zonner worked for Vollen, not the athletic department, Harris handed the team doctor a new set of rules called "Policies and Procedures for Team Physicians."

Under Harris' new rules, Zonner was not allowed to refer any athletes to outside specialists for treatment without the approval of Head Trainer Perry Edinger, who is not a physician. During football games, the university's chief orthopedic consultant--not the team physician--had the final authority on treatment for injured players.

Another standing rule of the athletic department was not included in the newly written policy, but documents and sources say it continued to be enforced. Under that unusual rule, Zonner, a doctor, was not allowed to run onto the football field unless signaled by Edinger or one of the other trainers.

When she learned that Harris, a bureaucrat, was effectively attempting to supervise her employee, a medical doctor, Vollen engaged the battle.

In a memo sent to Wilkinson three days after Harris gave Zonner new marching orders, Vollen argued that "Charles Harris, by way of developing medical policy, is moving towards institutionalizing a system that will allow [the athletic department] to determine the medical care delivered to student athletes. Such a system has, and will, jeopardize [sic] the health of student athletes and the welfare of the university."

Harris declined to be interviewed for this story, citing the probability of a lawsuit. But ASU athletic department spokesman Mark Brand insisted that the athletic director has "no say" in the medical decision-making process.

Vollen's document stash, however, contradicts that assertion. In multiple memos and computer messages, Vollen protested to university administrators that the athletic director was setting medical policy.

Her protestations, records show, fell on deaf ears.
"Again, I think this is a potential time bomb," Vollen said in a message to the general counsel's office in October. "What probably buys the university the greatest time is the fact that student athletes are scared of consequences of any challenge of the [athletic department's] actions. If anything is ever litigated, there will be internal adversaries: [the athletic department] and Student Health. I really think the university would be hurt if that came to pass."
Despite her pleas, Vollen says, she was told by Wilkinson and other administrators to abide by the medical policy Harris had proffered until a new set of procedures could be formally drafted.

By late October, Zonner himself was bristling under the restrictions being placed on his efforts to care for athletes.

"I feel my medical judgment is being undermined daily by the athletic training staff, largely due to the control they have over my practice with the present medical policy," Zonner messaged Vollen in late October. "This situation has to change."
Several days later, Zonner unleashed the bureaucratic equivalent of a depth charge--drafting a lengthy memo to Vollen and sending copies to administrators across the campus.

"Recent events have made the practice of quality medicine extremely difficult," the memo stated. It went on to list the various conflicts over treatment that had occurred between Zonner and the athletic department.

Zonner's memo explained that, at Harris' direction, he could refer athletes only to specialists on the SMAT--or Sports Medicine Advisory Team--a group consisting of doctors selected by Harris and the athletic department.

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