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Doctor: criticism is unfair

Dr. Frank Collins says he and other surgeons were willing to keep Washington County Hospital's trauma program going.

Dr. Frank Collins says he and other surgeons were willing to keep Washington County Hospital's trauma program going.

August 10, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown trauma surgeon said Friday that doctors are being unfairly blamed for the closing of Washington County Hospital's trauma center.

Hospital officials have said they were forced to close the trauma center after surgeons failed to provide 24-hour coverage. But Dr. Frank Collins said he and other surgeons were willing to keep the program going when the administration chose to shut it down June 1.

The issue came to a head this week after it took 90 minutes for a man critically injured near Hagerstown last weekend to reach the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore by medevac helicopter.

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State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell had harsh words for the doctors this week, saying they "walked out on the citizens of Western Maryland."

Mitchell said the doctors should have continued to staff the trauma center while negotiating for better pay.

Collins said Mitchell spoke out of "ignorance" of the issues.

Administrators and trauma doctors have been meeting in the past few weeks to work out differences on pay and staffing, he said.

"I'd say the pace is slow," Collins said.

Collins said the hospital could downgrade its trauma center without hurting patient care.

Washington County had operated as a Level II center, which required at least one trauma surgeon to be at the hospital around the clock. If it reopened as a Level III center, a trauma surgeon would have 30 minutes to get to the hospital.

Asked whether the community wants to see the higher level trauma center reopen, Collins responded: "What does the community know? Is the community in the trauma room?"

Having a trauma center would not have helped Justin Nathaniel Fishell, 25, who fell off an all-terrain vehicle at Mason-Dixon Dragway Aug. 2 and injured his head, Collins said.

Collins said Fishell should have been brought to the hospital emergency room, which is still open.

A state police helicopter could not get there right away. 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.

Fishell remained in critical condition at Shock Trauma on Friday.

Collins was the only Hagerstown trauma surgeon who returned phone calls in the last two days seeking comment.

Dr. Marc Kross, Dr. Anhtai Nguyen, Dr. Carl Riggle, Dr. Ilana West, Dr. Stephen Sachs, Dr. Daniel Weinberg, Dr. Esam Omeish and Dr. Sylvanus Oyogoa are the trauma doctors for the hospital, said Barry Nickelsburg, executive director of development, public relations and marketing for the hospital's parent company, Washington County Health System.

A woman at the Hagerstown Surgical Clinic, where doctors Nguyen, Riggle, West and Sachs have offices, said the physicians there would not return calls to The Herald-Mail and referred calls to Kross, the former head of the trauma center.

Kross did not return telephone messages left at his office Thursday and Friday.

Doctors Omeish and Oyogoa could not be located.

- Staff writer Dan Kulin contributed to this story.

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