Care is same or better

August 10, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE
(Page 2 of 2)

Dr. Marc Kross serves as the program's full-time surgeon-in-chief, covering the weekdays when the part-time doctors are handling their private practices. It's an arrangement that is unique among community hospitals. Riggle believes it provides for better continuity of care.

A new beeper system also feeds surgeons more detailed information about the trauma case that's on the way. They know, for example, whether the patient is a gunshot victim or whether the patient is a child, which allows them to better respond, he said.

As part of the reorganization, the hospital created a Trauma Committee that meets regularly to discuss problems and goals, Addo said.

All the changes represent a big contrast from a year ago, when the trauma surgeons and the hospital administration were not even talking to each other. The program had faltered to the point where there were not enough surgeons to take calls.


That led the hospital to shut down the trauma center at the beginning of the summer, the busiest time for trauma cases. Accident victims and other trauma patients had to be flown to Baltimore or Washington for treatment.

"It really does impact the whole system when one of our centers closes," Beachley said.

From June 1 through Aug. 29 last year, Washington County made 144 requests for helicopter assistance, said Maj. Donald Lewis, commander of the Maryland State Police Aviation Division. By comparison, from June 1 through Friday, there have been 36 requests, he said.

"You can see the dramatic drop in request for service as a result of the trauma center having reopened," he said.

While last year's increase from Washington County did not boost the overall numbers in the eight-helicopter statewide system, it did increase response time, he said. Numbers to back that up were not readily available.

A turning point

The trauma center dispute came to a head in early August, when a 25-year-old Glen Burnie, Md., man had to wait 90 minutes to get to a hospital because of the closure. The man survived the head injury at Mason-Dixon Dragway east of Hagerstown after being flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

By that time, administrators and surgeons were already discussing a way to re-establish trauma service.

The hospital agreed to pay the doctors about $1.5 million in annual on-call costs to bring it back online. Some of that money is coming back to the hospital from the new billing of trauma patients.

In addition, the Maryland General Assembly approved a $2.50-per-year increase in the cost of vehicle registrations to subsidize the state's trauma centers.

Addo said the legislation is projected to bring as much as $900,000 a year to Washington County Hospital.

"For this to work long-term, it has to be financially solvent," Riggle said.

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