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Officials say hospital seeking way to restore trauma care

June 13, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Physicians and Washington County Hospital managers have been meeting daily in an effort to find a way to reinstate trauma care, a hospital official told emergency workers Wednesday.

"This is not a situation anyone wants to continue," said Barry Nickelsberg, executive director of Development, Community Relations and Marketing for the Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company. "We are working with physicians to come up with a model that will work."

Nickelsberg's comments came at a special meeting called by the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association to address concerns about the hospital's decision to give up its trauma center status.

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Nickelsberg said he wanted to share information about the trauma center during the meeting as part of an effort to dispel rumors circulating about the hospital's action.

Some believe a trauma care unit is a "cash cow," but the hospital has been underwriting the trauma center, without objection, by about $1.9 million a year, Nickelsberg said.

"That is our level of commitment," he said.

Out of 64,000 people taken to the hospital emergency room last year, 744 received trauma care, he said. Of those, about 250 were treated and released, he said.

Since June 1, when the hospital closed its trauma center, some high-priority patients who would have been taken to the local trauma center have been taken instead to hospitals in Baltimore or Bethesda, Md.

Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer James P. Hamill has said the hospital decided to give up the trauma designation because it could no longer promise 24-hour coverage for trauma surgery, a prerequisite for the hospital's level of trauma care.

Hamill has said the decision was made when the hospital learned May 28 that one-fourth of the 60 trauma surgeon shifts for June were not covered.

The American College of Surgeons is sending trauma specialists to analyze the hospital and offer advice on the situation. They are scheduled to start their analysis in July.

Fire and Rescue Association President Jason Baer said having Nickelsberg attend the meeting was helpful because it helped quell rumors.

After the meeting, Tim Gargana, assistant chief of Sharpsburg Area Emergency Medical Services, said he was pleased to hear the hospital was trying to find a way to reopen the trauma center.

Rescue companies have expressed concern about the amount of time they would have to spend transporting patients to hospitals in Baltimore and Bethesda.

During the meeting, a state police corporal told ambulance companies they don't necessarily have to drive their patients all the way to Baltimore or Bethesda if the patients need trauma care.

Instead, paramedics can arrange to meet Maryland State Police in Frederick County and the medevac helicopter will take the patient the rest of the way, allowing ambulances to return to Washington County, said Cpl. Donald M. Lehman, supervisor of the state police Frederick Aviation Section.

J. Michael Nye, executive director of Community Rescue Service, said there have been 28 requests for state police helicopters this month, of which 20 were approved.

If the helicopters had not been sent, and rescue companies had to take those patients to other hospitals, there would have been a different mood Wednesday night, he said.

"We would be here with torches burning and pitchforks," Nye said.

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