Md. hospital takes steps to reopen trauma unit

Institution holds talks with doctors, names panel

July 18, 2002|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Washington County Hospital officials said yesterday that they're turning to a team of Maryland trauma experts to advise the hospital on ways to reopen its trauma center.

The center closed abruptly June 1 - with only two days notice - after local surgeons said they would no longer provide the required round-the-clock staffing. The Hagerstown hospital has said it hopes to find a new staffing model that will allow the center to reopen.

Originally, the hospital was planning to get advice from a team from the American College of Surgeons. However, James P. Hamill, the hospital's president, said the College of Surgeons' team was delayed, causing the institution to turn to in-state experts for "a quicker solution."

The Hagerstown trauma center was one of nine in the state providing emergency care for seriously injured patients. While it is shut, state police helicopters are ferrying Washington County accident victims to Baltimore or to regional trauma centers in Bethesda or Cumberland.

Emergency medical system providers in the county are concerned that if the helicopters are grounded because of weather, patients won't get care during "the golden hour" - the period after an injury that could spell the difference between life and death. They also expressed fears that county ambulances could be tied up for hours on trips to Baltimore.

"We're doing very well" so far; helicopters have always been available when needed, said Brigette Heller, an emergency management specialist for the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. She said 33 patients were flown out of the county in June, with no reports of delays in care.

She said emergency service providers were hoping for a solution by September.

Hospital officials said there's no set timetable for reopening the center. The advisory panel will hold open meetings in Hagerstown next week to seek input from the public and from emergency service providers. The panel also will hold a private meeting with the hospital's medical staff.

Members of the advisory panel are: Dr. Edward Cornwell 3rd, director of adult trauma services at the Johns Hopkins Hospital; Dr. William Minogue, senior vice president for medical affairs at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda; Jocelyn Ferrar, trauma coordinator at Sinai Hospital; and Mary Beachley, from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, which oversees the state's trauma system.

The doctors who staffed the trauma center are not full-time hospital employees but physicians who practice in the community and took turns covering the center. As a "Level 2" center, Washington County had trauma surgeons on the premises at all times, with neurosurgeons and orthopedists on call.

Hamill, the hospital's president, had given doctors a proposal covering "contractual agreements and reimbursement for services," the hospital said.

Hamill met with orthopedists to discuss the proposal, but meetings with neurosurgeons and trauma surgeons were canceled because of scheduling conflicts, the hospital said.

Representatives of the physician groups could not be reached yesterday for comment.

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