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County’s First Trauma Center Coming to Geisinger

August 5, 2008

By Ron Bartizek, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Aug. 5–PLAINS TWP. — Severely injured or ill patients will have better odds of survival and recovery after Oct. 1, when a Level II trauma center officially opens in Geisinger Wyoming Valley’s new critical care building. The hospital received notice Monday of accreditation as Luzerne County’s first trauma center by the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation.

That will make a difference when emergency responders are attempting to save a life or avert disabling injury to victims of traffic accidents or violent crime, said John Campos, executive director of Emergency Medical Services of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

“For trauma patients time is everything,” Campos said, and having specialized care more accessible should improve outcomes.

Community Medical Center in Scranton has been the closest trauma center to Luzerne County, with transfers there often requiring helicopter transport. Other existing centers are in Danville, Sayre and the Lehigh Valley.

Campos said the goal in trauma cases is to get the person care within 30-45 minutes. If it will take longer to reach a trauma center, patients may be taken to the nearest hospital for stabilization. With the Geisinger center open, “we will be able to take them directly to the trauma center,” he said.

To earn Level II trauma designation, a hospital must have around-the-clock availability of specially trained health-care professionals, including trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, cardiac surgeons, radiologists and nurses. It also must maintain dedicated facilities in the emergency department.

There are three accredited trauma care categories in Pennsylvania. Level I facilities must conduct trauma research and have a surgical residency program while treating 650 major patients annually. Level II facilities are not required to meet the research and residency components and must have an annual volume of 350 major patients. Level III applies to small community hospitals where patients can be stabilized before transport for higher-level care.

Foundation Executive Director Juliet Geiger said that in order to earn accreditation Geisinger’s emergency department has had to operate up to standards since Jan. 1.

“All the structure had to be in place,” Geiger said, including “trauma alert activation criteria,” a protocol in which hospital personnel prepare for the arrival of patients as soon as emergency provider informs them about an incoming case. “It’s like a pit crew for a car race,” she said.

The hospital also has been required to track its response times and other performance criteria. A recent on-site inspection of records and facilities was one of the final steps toward approval.

The trauma center will be incorporated into a 32-bed emergency department in the critical care building that is scheduled to open Sept. 1. There is a helicopter landing pad on top of the building, and a new $6 million medical helicopter has replaced an older model based at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport at the northern edge of the county.

Given the ease of driving to Geisinger, which is located just off the Cross Valley Expressway and Interstate 81, Campos expects to see less use of helicopter transport, which can cost patients or their insurers thousands of dollars. And, when landing and liftoff times are taken into account, “flying sometimes isn’t a whole lot quicker than driving,” Campos said.

“That’s why you hate to see it overutilized,” especially when other transportation is available.

To earn Level II trauma designation, a hospital must have around-the-clock availability of specially trained health-care professionals, including trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, cardiac surgeons, radiologists and nurses.

Ron Bartizek, Times Leader business editor, may be reached at 970-7157.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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