UT team physician is out

Dr. Val Gene Iven is out as Tennessee's team physician after 13 years in what athletic director Mike Hamilton described as a ``communication problem'' with Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic, a consulting firm that does most surgeries of Tennessee student-athletes.

Iven will remain head of UT's Student Health Center. It is unclear if Iven will remain at UT because he came to be the UT team physician.

Iven declined comment Monday on his ouster until he talks with Hamilton.

Hamilton said Monday morning he had not talked to Iven yet because of vacation conflicts but that Iven had been informed of the change by the University.

``He's a great guy, a great friend,'' Hamilton said of Iven. ``It saddens me. But the quality of care of our student-athletes on a consistent basis is paramount. You've got to have folks take a new attitude or change the parties involved. Unfortunately, we had to change the parties involved.''

But considering Hamilton had not talked to Iven, you question whether the parties involved were even asked to change their attitudes. Iven wasn't aware of the change until he returned last week from vacation.

``The communication breakdown wasn't between UT Medical Center and KOC,'' Hamilton said. ``It was Student Health and KOC. We addressed those issues.''

Asked if Iven had done something wrong, Hamilton said: ``I'm not going to throw him under the bus because he's a personal friend. As we reviewed over the past year our communication model, it was not where it needed to be for the benefit of the student-athlete.''

Hamilton said UT asked for a third-party evaluation of the training room, the team physician and the university relationship for health care. In the spring, a consultant, Dr. Bob Wirag of the University of North Carolina, said there was a ``dysfunction in communication among the units,'' according to Hamilton.

Hamilton said about half the major schools have a team physician through Student Health and about half outsource the team physician.

Hamilton said KOC has a physician on staff on a temporary basis and that Dr. Rob Rubright, the man Iven replaced as team physician in 1992, would be available. A permanent replacement will likely come from KOC, Hamilton said.

There has been speculation that KOC wasn't happy with Iven because of the number of football players who sought surgeries from out-of-town physicians. But Iven, according to sources, has never steered athletes to another physician, only assisted when they asked for a second opinion.

Hamilton said he didn't think the growing number of out-of-town surgeries was a big issue.

``We want the student-athlete to have the best possible care,'' Hamilton said. ``From an orthopedic standpoint, they can get it right here without seeking other physicians. But if they need a doctor in a specialized discipline, we need to help them pursue that.

``I think there have been some standard surgeries when athletes went elsewhere when we would have preferred to see that happen in Knoxville because physicians in Knoxville could oversee the post-op care. That hasn't happened on a wholesale basis.''

KOC has performed abut 95 surgeries on football players over the past four years, according to a source familiar with the situation.

KOC is expected to provide the physician free of charge, but, on visits or operations, would collect money from the athlete's insurance or from the athletic department's student-athlete insurance fund, provided the student-athlete didn't have personal insurance.

Iven is paid by the University. He is not an athletic department employee. Hamilton said that Health Services recently asked the athletic department to assume full cost of the team physicians, Iven and Becky Morgan. That total is about $300,000, Hamilton said.

``If we'd maintained the model of a team physician out of Student Health, we'd assume a more significant cost,'' Hamilton said. ``But $300,000 out of a $70 million budget is not a cost-cutting measure.''

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