Legislature(2019 - 2020)BARNES 124
03/05/2020 08:00 AM COMMUNITY & REGIONAL AFFAIRS
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HCR 14-BRAIN INJURY AWARENESS MONTH 8:20:40 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND announced that the final order of business would be HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 14, Proclaiming March 2020 as Brain Injury Awareness Month. 8:21:02 AM REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS TUCK, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor, presented HCR 14, which would proclaim March 2020 as Brain Injury Awareness Month in Alaska. He said the theme for this year's campaign is "Change Your Mind." He continued: This resolution seeks to draw attention to the effects of brain injuries and the ways to prevent them. Right now millions of people worldwide are living with a brain injury, and they're categorized as "traumatic" and "acquired." As noted in the resolution, the Brain Injury Association of America reports that every 96 seconds someone in the U.S. sustains a brain injury. REPRESENTATIVE TUCK directed attention to the definition of traumatic brain injury (TBI), on page 1, lines [7-8], which is "a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury". He offered the following statistics: 12 percent of the general population has experienced at least 1 TBI; 1 in 60 people in the U.S. lives with a TBI related injury; 50,000 each year die of traumatic brain injuries; an estimated 3.5-5.3 million Americans live with long-term disabilities resulting from traumatic brain injuries; and in 2016 and estimated 27 million cases of TBIs were reported worldwide. REPRESENTATIVE TUCK said TBIs can be prevented. He talked about military helmets from World War I to present and said preventative measures have been around for a long time. He expressed that he feels pride when he sees people wearing helmets when they ride bicycles, skateboard, and rollerblade. He shared that as an avid snow machine rider and motorcyclist and always wears a helmet. He wrote a report in the eighth grade about the importance of wearing helmets, and this experience made a lasting impression. REPRESENTATIVE TUCK advised that TBI is an underrecognized health problem; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that everyone is at risk for TBI, especially young children and older adults. He said TBIs [result in] a variety of physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral issues; outcomes can vary from total recovery to permanent disability or even death. Immediately following injury, some signs of TBI include being dazed and confused, persistent neck pain, sensitivity to light or noise, loss of balance, changes in sleeping patterns, and not remembering the injury. He said acquired brain injuries are those caused by strokes, oxygen deprivation, seizures, tumors, and substance abuse. The Brain Injury Association of America estimates that over 3.5 million children and adults sustain acquired brain injury each year. He related a story about a former Representative who sustained brain injury and the importance of early awareness and treatment. REPRESENTATIVE TUCK stated his belief that proclaiming March as Brain Injury Awareness month would increase awareness of TBI and acquired brain injury (ABI) and hopefully prevent future brain injuries. He said Annette Alfonsi, from Unmasking Brain Injury, would provide invited testimony, and he noted that Unmasking Brain Injury is mentioned in the third-to-last "WHEREAS" clause. As shown in the second-to-last "WHEREAS" clause, he pointed out that Brain Injury Awareness Month is recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense. 8:27:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON questioned why HCR 14 proposed only March 2020 rather than in perpetuity. REPRESENTATIVE TUCK explained that making March of every year Brain Injury Awareness Month would require a bill rather than a resolution. 8:28:33 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND announced that the committee would hear invited testimony on HCR 14. 8:28:44 AM ANNETTE ALFONSI, Alaska Coordinator, Unmasking Brain Injury, paraphrased her written testimony, which read as follows [original punctuation provided]: Thank you for letting me speak with you today. My name is Annette Alfonsi. Before 2012, I worked for the 1%, had a college degree, was in great health, and was looking at grad school. After I was a passenger in a rollover car accident with a reckless driver, my primary provider gave me one day off of work to rest. I had multiple internal injuries and persistent concussion symptoms over time, and was told different things by doctors. Some didn't believe me or assumed my symptoms were only behavioral and not physical, and some said my healing would not improve and I would live my life with my current symptoms and would never work again, or that I should be a housewife. None of them supported treatments for healing. I was laid off one business day before I would have qualified for medical leave, was denied disability, and was told at the municipal and state level that I am not in a category people care to help. I no longer have a retirement. I am statistically likely to get reinjured, experience homelessness, have lower lifetime outcomes, and have greater risk for comorbid health conditions that most health providers don't currently know they should be screening for. Multidisciplinary treatment, working with a brain injury specialist physician and leaving Alaska for treatment is what helped me. Leaving was less expensive and more effective than what I paid for and experienced here. When the brain injury doctor I was seeing left Alaska in 2015, I planned a TBI conference while recovering from back surgery, so her knowledge could stay in Alaska. Over 100 people attended. By request, this led to our annual conferences with different host organizations. I've been told I cannot attend educational events because I am a patient, so the events I plan allow everyone to learn the same thing and facilitates advocacy with knowledge. This year, I am planning another TBI conference hosted by Hope Community Resources on Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28. We have continuing education credits approved in 8 professional fields, and we're offering distance education, so you are all invited to attend for free. I plan this with volunteers that want standards of excellence in multidisciplinary and intercultural health care around brain injury in Alaska. Go to AlaskaBrainInjuryEducation.com for more info. In 2017 I became the Alaska Coordinator for Unmasking Brain Injury, an internationally known brain injury awareness project, in which people with any kind of traumatic or acquired brain injury and their loved ones can make a mask, with an explanation of their art, to share what it feels like to live with a brain injury. We work with groups to host mask making events, and to host mask exhibits. Visit unmaskingbraininjury.org for more info. But I am still not employable, because this type of work with my level of education is only available full time and I can't work 40 hours a week. The past two years I've hosted community conversations with groups that tend to have a higher number of clients that have experienced brain injury. This includes organizations in fields like domestic violence, homelessness, reentry, suicide prevention, substance misuse, child abuse, and senior citizens. Directors and project managers know their folks have brain injuries, their client's brain injuries affect every part of life, and they are often the first point of contact for clients. But they don't understand their client's symptoms through the lens of brain injury. I am tired of these groups asking you for more money when they are ignoring an undercurrent that is the biggest issue for their clients. There aren't social service programs around brain injury compared to mental illness, so if someone has a brain injury and a mental illness, and must choose one diagnosis, they may disclose the mental illness to qualify for programs. So I'd like to suggest two concrete ideas to this body: Number One Idea: Make state funding for any group that is known or suspected to have more than 50% of their clients experiencing a brain injury be tied to education, in other words, state funds would not be disbursed unless the staff get brain injury education, and the funding should not be used for that education. Unlike medical professionals that tend to focus on diagnosis, these groups focus on function and need to understand the client symptoms they are witnessing. I know program directors in social service groups that love this idea. Number Two Idea: create or support a housing unit specifically for brain injury, the way other housing units are for people with specific diagnoses and health issues. This would allow tailored environmental modifications, and could be excellent for group therapies, peer support, and individualized treatment opportunities. I know directors that love this idea also. Damage to the brain can be healed but the amount of that healing is dependent on a number of concurrent factors not being maximized in Alaska. We need to get away from the idea that someone is good enough, or looks fine, when inside they are suffering. We can do better, and it starts with awareness. Please pass this resolution to raise that awareness. Thank you for your time. MS. ALFONSI added to her last paragraph of written testimony the following: "There's a place for everyone in our community, even with brain injury symptoms." 8:34:08 AM CO-CHAIR HANNAN shared that she is a survivor of two severe brain injuries - one at the age of 21, when she was in a roll- over car accident, and one at the age of 32, when she was severely assaulted when living abroad in Russia and was hospitalized in a neurological unit. She said it was probably a decade before she made a full recovery. Co-Chair Hannan emphasized that it is the length of recovery that is astonishing to most people living with a brain injury; it can take many years, and not all survivors are as lucky as she was. She thanked Ms. Alfonsi for bringing the awareness and statistics to the committee. She said Alaska is a place where there are a lot of accidental injuries resulting in traumatic brain injury. 8:35:12 AM REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON questioned why HCR 14 should not be passed out now [after only one hearing] considering it would name March 2020 as Brain Injury Awareness Month [and it was already March 5]. 8:35:47 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND said if there was no interest in amending HCR 14, she would ask for a motion to move it out of committee. 8:35:56 AM CO-CHAIR HANNAN moved to report HCR 14 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, HCR 14 was reported out of the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee.