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Doctors criticized for trauma troubles

August 09, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A Maryland State Police superintendent is blaming doctors for the closing of the Washington County Hospital trauma center.

In a letter to The Herald-Mail, Superintendent David B. Mitchell accuses the doctors of "walking out on the citizens of Western Maryland."

The hospital closed its trauma center June 1, saying it could not promise 24-hour coverage by a trauma surgeon. About one-fourth of the shifts were not covered, hospital officials have said.

Surgeons have said there are other issues involved besides staffing. None of the four trauma surgeons and three neurosurgeons who had worked in the trauma center returned phone calls Thursday.

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"I find it interesting that the trauma doctors who claim to care about saving lives are negotiating for better compensation and while doing so, the trauma center remains closed," Mitchell wrote in the letter, dated Wednesday. "The doctors of the Washington County Hospital Trauma Center should review their Hippocratic oath. The people of Western Maryland deserve better."

Mitchell could not be reached for further comment.

Maj. Donald Lewis, commander of the state police Aviation Division, said the trauma center's closing is stressing the statewide trauma system, which operates on the premise that seriously injured or ill patients have about 60 minutes - the "golden hour" - before they go into shock that might be irreversible.

Lewis cited last Friday's incident in which a man who injured his head at Mason-Dixon Dragway about eight miles east of Hagerstown had to wait 90 minutes to get to a hospital. He was flown by helicopter to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"We don't want to see those kinds of things repeated," he said.

Justin Nathaniel Fishell, 25, of Glen Burnie, Md., was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he remained in critical condition Thursday.

Washington County emergency medical services officials were reviewing the case to see what, if anything, could have been done differently.

Washington County Hospital's emergency room was full that night but offered to treat the patient if he was unstable, the tape recording of the emergency communications call appears to show.

Lewis said Mitchell chose to write the letter now because it doesn't seem like the hospital has made any progress toward reopening the trauma center.

Lewis said he can't understand why the surgeons could not have made sure the trauma center remained open during negotiations.

"Obviously, from what we can see here, there's an impasse. As police officers we have a responsibility to the citizens and we truly believe doctors are in the same boat," he said.

A hospital spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that administrators have been negotiating with the surgeons. Until sometime in the last two weeks, the two sides had not even talked.

Two weeks ago, a panel of trauma experts took comments from the public, emergency workers and one surgeon, Dr. Marc Kross.

The panel made recommendations to a task force working on the issue this week, said member Mary Beachley, director of the office of hospital programs at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

Hospital spokeswoman Kelly Redmond said the report won't be made public until after the next task force meeting, a date for which has not been set.

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