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Elected officials must help hospital regain trauma status

June 01, 2002

In a move with some life-and-death implications for those in this region, on Saturday the Washington County Hospital will cease being a trauma center. The region's elected officials need to look at what happened, and how it can be reversed.

In a Friday press conference, Jim Hamill, the hospital's president and chief executive officer, said his organization decided to drop the trauma designation because it was unable to promise 24-hour coverage for trauma surgery. That's a requirement for the Level II trauma center designation the hospital has had since 1998.

What's changed? Dr. Frank Collins, the assistant director of the hospital's trauma division, said the problem stemmed from the retirement of two neurosurgeons, leaving only three to cover all the shifts.

The issue came to a head Tuesday, Hamill said, when hospital officials learned that a quarter of the trauma shifts for the next month weren't covered.

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Hamill said the doctors weren't willing to work all those shifts. When asked whether the gaps in the schedule were intended to send a message, Collins said "the message was received."

The simple answer would be to recruit additional surgeons for the area. But given the hospital's difficulty in finding an endocrinologist to replace Dr. Stephen Lippman, who left his practice in November of 2001, drawing new surgeons here may be tougher than anticipated.

The loss of the trauma designation could mean transporting patients by helicopter or ambulance to trauma centers in Baltimore or Washington, D.C. Local rescue squad officials expressed fear that the delay involved could make it more difficult for doctors at those centers to treat patients.

The fact that the hospital has been a trauma center has not only been a benefit for people in the region, it's something Washington County has been able to use as a selling point for new businesses.

Local elected officials may be tempted to let the hospital handle this one alone, but given the fact that such an approach hasn't succeeded, they need to get involved and do what they can for the health and safety of everyone in Washington County.

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