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It's time to solve the trauma issue

August 08, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last Friday Justin Nathaniel Fishell was at the Mason-Dixon Dragway on U.S. 40 east of Hagerstown, a facility he and some friends had rented so that they could perform stunts on motorcycles and ATVs and videotape them.

Fishell's ATV wasn't going very fast, but when he looked over his shoulder toward the video camera, he lost control and was thrown onto the track. He wasn't wearing a helmet and the paramedics were called.

It took 90 minutes to get Fishell to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the state police helicopter needed to refuel and emergency crews had difficulty stabilizing the injured man.

But the main problem was that the Washington County Hospital's Trauma Center closed June 1 over staffing issues, and was on "yellow alert." That meant that the emergency room was full and that patients were to be directed to other facilities, unless doing so would lengthen the time of their transport by more than 20 minutes.

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But it's also hospital policy to admit critically injured patients and stabilize them. Clifford Davis, a medic with the Boonsboro Ambulance Squad said that the hospital refused to admit Fishell, even temporarily.

But a tape recording of the emergency dispatcher handling the call backs up the hospital's contention that it did offer to treat Fishell. On the tape, the dispatcher tells medics at least three times that the hospital would take Fishell.

We won't speculate on what might have caused this situation, but it's clear that the lack of a local trauma center played a large part. The business leaders who sit on the hospital board need to resolve the institution's labor problems with the trauma surgeons quickly and reopen the center in one form or another.

And if they don't, the elected officials who've been relatively quiet on this issue need to find a way to force a solution. Getting involved now will be easier than explaining why they didn't after someone dies.

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