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Trauma center reopened

Washignton County Hospital will now offer Level III care, meaning surgeons are on call rather than stationed at the hospital aro

Washignton County Hospital will now offer Level III care, meaning surgeons are on call rather than stationed at the hospital aro

October 03, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County Hospital's Trauma Center reopened late Wednesday afternoon, ending a four-month lapse that sent more trauma patients to the Baltimore-Washington area for treatment.

The trauma center has been downgraded from a Level II to a Level III center, which means that surgeons are on call rather than stationed at the hospital around-the-clock.

But officials said patients will receive the same level of care as they did when the trauma center met Level II standards.

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The reopening brings to a close months of negotiations between hospital administrators and the Hagerstown-area surgeons whose part-time work at the trauma center was crucial to the operation.

The trauma center closed when the hospital was unable to cover the shifts with surgeons. Long hours spent handling trauma cases and dealing with busy private practices were taking a toll, surgeons said.

Once the surgeons signed labor contracts and filled out an on-call schedule, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) gave the go-ahead for the trauma center to reopen, hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said.

That permission came late in the day Wednesday, she said.

Theriault could not provide many details Wednesday about the trauma center's reopening.

Dr. Karl Riggle will be the trauma center's administrative director and Dr. Marc Kross will be its surgeon-in-chief, she said.

The news came as a relief to fire and rescue workers, who have been strained by the lack of a trauma center.

"We're very pleased. Ecstatic, really," said Washington County Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth, whose office was notified by a fax from MIEMSS.

Ambulance crews can return to their normal practice of delivering accident victims and other trauma patients directly to Washington County Hospital instead of taking them to a trauma center in Washington or Baltimore, Kroboth said.

Washington County Fire and Rescue Services sent a fax to fire and rescue stations and announced over the emergency communications channel that the Level III center would open at 6 p.m.

"It's overdue. Hopefully they've planned a little better so we don't have any problems with it," said Alan Matheny of Halfway Fire Co.

Jason Baer, president of the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association, said he's happy about the trauma center reopening. "It worked our people harder and created additional problems. How do you think I feel?" he said.

He said without the trauma center, medevac helicopters and ambulances sometimes were tied up for hours transporting patients to hospitals outside Washington County, making it difficult for his workers to provide their best service to the community.

"I think it's a very good thing. Patients don't have to wait so long to get to a definitive health care center," Capt. Chuck Singleton of Community Rescue Service in Hagerstown said.

Maryland State Police helicopters based in Cumberland and Frederick had worked overtime to fly patients for treatment.

In the first three months that the trauma center was closed, helicopters handled 80 patients in the county. The same time last year it was 13, police said.

When the helicopters were busy on other calls, patients had to wait for them to arrive.

"We were waiting way too long on the scene with these trauma patients. People should feel safer that they're back on line," Community Rescue Service Chief Chris Amos said.

Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel said the Level III center will serve the community as well as the Level II had done before it closed June 1.

"The main concern for us is that the trauma center is open - the level doesn't mean one iota," he said. "Doctors will have to be on call to fill the requirement."

Before it closed, Washington County Trauma Center accepted about 750 patients a year.

In August, hospital officials had hoped for a Labor Day opening.

But it took another month to work through contractual issues, said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, a member of an ad hoc Trauma Center Task Force that was monitoring the situation.

"I'm glad that all the sides were able to come together and I think people should be very happy they don't have to worry about their loved ones being driven down the road to Baltimore or Bethesda when they're critically hurt," Donoghue said.

Donoghue said he and other lawmakers still need to address the problem on a statewide basis using Washington County Hospital's case as a model.

The timing of the reopening caught some by surprise, even some task force members.

Christoffel and William Wright, who are both on the task force, said they didn't find out about the trauma center's reopening until The Herald-Mail called them.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said when he spoke with James Hamill late Wednesday afternoon, the hospital president and CEO told him that last-minute negotiations were going on.

Snook said he didn't know an exact time when the center would open.

"I knew they were real close," Snook said. "I'm glad they were able to get it worked out. It's definitely beneficial for the county to have that back open."

Commissioner John Schnebly said he hadn't been told when the trauma center would reopen.

"I've really been out of the loop on that one," Schnebly said. "Your news is my news."

Staff writers Pepper Ballard, Tara Reilly and Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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