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Medics loss of trauma care costly

June 01, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

A labor dispute that led Washington County Hospital to suspend trauma care starting today has area medics concerned about the time and cost of transporting emergency patients by ambulance.

"It will affect us dramatically," said Tim Gargana, assistant chief of Sharpsburg Area Emergency Medical Services.

Hospital President and CEO James P. Hamill said Thursday that, except in life-threatening situations, seriously or potentially seriously injured patients from Washington and Frederick counties as well as parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia will be flown to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore or Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.

In bad weather, patients may be taken to Washington County Hospital and stabilized before being taken to one of the designated trauma centers, officials said.

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If a patient seriously injured in Sharpsburg has to be taken to Baltimore by ambulance it could tie up that vehicle for three or more hours, Gargana said. Another company may need to cover for the ambulance in its absence, he said.

The added mileage costs will have to be paid by Sharpsburg or the patients if insurance companies don't cover them, and the trips will take a physical toll on ambulances, which are expensive to maintain, Gargana said.

Sharpsburg doesn't have a lot of extra money for added overtime costs that could be incurred for lengthy trips to Baltimore or Bethesda, he said.

Officials from Boonsboro Ambulance and Rescue and The Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway said they have similar financial concerns.

"In the short term we're OK, but over the long term it can take its toll," Boonsboro medic Ernie White said.

Boonsboro goes on about 1,000 calls a year, he said.

With a coverage area that includes Interstate 70, the Hagerstown Speedway and Fort Frederick State Park, Clear Spring Ambulance Club sees a large number of serious trauma patients each year, Capt. Ryan Adkins said in a written statement.

"The time on the scene plus the travel time will profoundly impact the outcome of the patient's condition," said Ryan.

Hospital President Hamill said the hospital board learned Tuesday that the seven general trauma surgeons were unwilling to provide the 24-hour, in-house staffing required of a Level II trauma center.

The hospital's emergency room will continue to operate, accepting less serious medical problems.

All calls to Hamill on Friday were referred to hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault.

When asked if the hospital and its physicians could reach a compromise, Theriault said, "At this point the decision has been made and they're going to continue with internal review and get the opinion of the American College of Surgeons."

At the hospital's request, the American College of Surgeons will review the hospital's trauma program starting July 1. Hamill would not say Thursday whether the hospital would try to become a trauma center again after the study.

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