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Panel to explore trauma program

An eight member task force includes trauma surgeons, other doctors, elected officials, and Washington County Health System, Inc.

An eight member task force includes trauma surgeons, other doctors, elected officials, and Washington County Health System, Inc.

June 21, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A task force has been formed to determine the best way for Washington County Hospital to provide trauma care for the community, Washington County Hospital officials said Thursday.

The task force also could recommend that the trauma center remain closed, but Washington County Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer James Hamill said he doubted that would be the case.

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.

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The eight-member task force includes trauma surgeons, other doctors, elected officials, state trauma system officials and Washington County Health System Inc. board members, Hamill said. The health system is the hospital's parent company.

The first meeting of the task force probably will be held next week, he said.

It costs about $6.2 million a year to run the trauma center, hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said. The hospital has been subsidizing the trauma center's operation by about $1.9 million, hospital officials said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, a task force member, said he did not believe keeping the trauma center closed was an option.

"We definitely need to reopen it. It is a question of the level of service," he said. "My job is to fight that we resolve this in a very timely manner."

Task force member Dr. Frank J. Collins, assistant director of the hospital's trauma division, said the task force will examine whether it is practical and feasible for the hospital to have a trauma program and, if so, what format it should have.

Collins said he does not think there has been a drop in the hospital's quality of care as a result of the trauma center closing.

Alan Methany, the EMS coordinator for The Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway, disagreed. The extended time it takes to obtain treatment for some patients when they are taken to hospitals outside the county, has to affect the patients, both medically and emotionally, he said.

The hospital's trauma center was part of a statewide system established through the efforts of the late heart surgeon R Adams Cowley, who discovered the importance of stabilizing victims within what he called "the golden hour," the first hour after they are injured.

Methany said he opposes keeping the trauma center closed.

"I think that's craziness. At a bare minimum level III is the way to go," Methany said.

Washington County Hospital has been a trauma center since 1981 and a Level II center since 1998.

At a Level III center, a trauma surgeon must be able to reach the hospital within 30 minutes. At a Level II center, at least one trauma surgeon must be at the hospital 24 hours a day. Level I centers have standards beyond Level II centers, such as in-house residents and a research program, Beachley said.

Collins said for the hospital to operate a trauma center at a Level III designation would make more sense than having no trauma facility.

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 Level II trauma care.

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

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

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