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Trauma center's return hoped is foreseen

The president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Health System says he hopes the trauma center will reopen by

The president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Health System says he hopes the trauma center will reopen by

August 17, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Hospital officials hope to reopen the hospital's trauma center by Labor Day even if negotiations with trauma surgeons are not completed.

James Hamill, president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, expressed the hope of a Labor Day opening in an internal e-mail message to hospital employees Friday morning, hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said. The hospital would not release a copy of the document.

A recommendation to restore trauma care while negotiations continue was contained in a report by a panel of trauma experts from across the state. Theriault said Hamill's action was not directly in response to the panel's report.

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The Labor Day reopening is a goal in part because the holiday is typically a busy day at trauma centers.

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 to hospitals in Baltimore and elsewhere.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he is optimistic the hospital can reopen the trauma center by Labor Day. Donoghue is a member of a local task force formed to examine the trauma issue.

The state panel's report, dated Aug. 7, was provided to local task force members Thursday, Theriault said. The state panel examined issues involving the trauma center at the request of Hamill and the county task force.

The panel's report includes this recommendation: "Re-establish the Trauma Program immediately while you continue to negotiate level of the center and details of a new compensation package."

Theriault said the hospital can't reopen the trauma center immediately but will try to reopen it as quickly as possible.

Earlier this week, Hamill said if the trauma center reopens it most likely will be downgraded from the Level II status it had when it closed.

Level II certification requires that trauma surgeons be available at the hospital at all times. Under Level III certification, surgeons must be available at the hospital within 30 minutes of a trauma call.

Reopening with Level III status would help alleviate staffing burdens, officials said.

Washington County Hospital has operated a trauma center for about 20 years. The hospital has been a Level II center since January 1998.

Hospital representatives have had "very positive talks" with trauma physicians regarding the structure of the trauma program and physician compensation and will continue to work to resolve issues, Theriault said.

Neither hospital administrators nor doctors have been willing to discuss publicly the specific problems that led to the trauma center's closing. Hamill has said there were not enough surgeons to cover the shifts. Surgeons have said they were willing to keep working during negotiations.

At a July 25 public hearing held by the state panel, Hagerstown-area residents and emergency workers said lives are at stake unless the trauma center is reopened.

The stated report issued Thursday said, "The closure of this trauma center has created a large gap in the State Trauma System and disrupted the access to timely trauma resuscitation that has major public health implications."

Theriault said the hospital disagrees with that conclusion.

The panel's report also recommended:

  • Including all affected parties in the negotiations.

  • Keeping medical staff members informed of work being done at the state government level regarding trauma center patients without insurance.

  • Evaluating carefully a physicians' proposal for on-call pay.



Theriault would not disclose information about the proposals being discussed in negotiations but said trauma surgeons are paid by the hospital for being on call.

Trauma surgeons did not return phone calls left Thursday and Friday

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