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Trauma center coordinator retires after 41 years

January 27, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Since 1962, whenever Lorna Christian caught up with a co-worker, physician or administrator in a hallway at Washington County Hospital and said "walk with me," one knew she would have something to say about improving patient care.

Retiring after 41 years at the hospital in Hagerstown, Christian faced a room full of people Sunday she'd "walked with" over those years, some of whom credited her with many innovations, including making the hospital's trauma center a reality more than 20 years ago.

She has served as trauma coordinator for two decades. Her replacement is Joan Fortney.

"Lorna made things work, doing the paperwork to make us a Level II trauma center in 1998," said Dr. Karl Riggle, who came to the hospital in 1989. Forced to close on June 1, 2002, for lack of 24-hour physician coverage, the trauma center was re-established at Level III on Oct. 2, 2002, at 6 p.m.

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"We owe that to Lorna," Riggle said Sunday to thunderous applause at the Four Points Sheraton.

Christian said one of the more amazing moments in her memorable career was on Oct. 2, when the trauma center reopened.

"That was the best telephone call I have ever received," she said.

Dr. Tom Gilbert, head of the hospital emergency room, described Christian as the epitome of nursing excellence.

"We owe you for the trauma center," Gilbert said Sunday.

As part of her work with the trauma center, Christian has worked very closely with the field providers in Washington County, helping them achieve a high level of proficiency.

"Lorna has always known that trauma starts at the scene of the accident," said Dick Mettetal, coordinator of Region II of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

Christian said she became a staff nurse at Washington County Hospital in 1962. She did a stint as head nurse and evening supervisor until she opened the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital in the late 1960s, where she stayed for 20 years.

"Lorna has very high standards and she holds us to them, too," said Mary Towe, who worked with Christian in ICU for a number of years. "She is such an advocate for quality patient care."

Dr. Edson Moody was with Christian when ICU was just beginning, and he recalled what a difficult task it was. "You established a standard for the rest of us at the hospital," Moody said.

Sue Munson said she remembers working with Christian and quickly learned she wouldn't tolerate lazy or unprofessional conduct.

Fran Cordell echoed that sentiment, having worked with Christian first in 1973.

"You always believed in us and pushed us and we thank you," Cordell said.

Kelsey Wilkes came to the hospital as a social worker in 1984 and saw firsthand how devoted Christian was to her patients.

"It was Lorna and I who organized the head injury support group in 1985 or '86," Wilkes said. "And she also started the hospital's speech therapy department."

When it was her turn to reach the podium Sunday, Christian said "this year has probably been one of the toughest," referring to the loss of the trauma center and all the effort it took to bring it back.

A single mother, Christian had both her adult daughters with her Sunday - Lisa, a YMCA executive in California, and Kelli, director of information at a Florida hospital.

"I think the toughest thing about retirement will be not being a part of what happens next for the WCH trauma center," Christian said.

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