Fifteen months after receiving official designation as a Level II trauma center, emergency department staff at SIH Memorial Hospital and the entire Southern Illinois Healthcare system are celebrating the hospital's first year of service as Southern Illinois' only trauma center.
"In its first year, our trauma center has been really busy. We doubled our projection," Garrett Burton, SIH's director of trauma and emergency services, said.
A Trauma Center is a hospital designated by Illinois Department of Public Health to provide optimal care to trauma patients. Before Memorial Hospital was designated a trauma center late in 2019, the nearest trauma centers were in St. Louis and Evansville.
The hospital initially expected to treat about 300 trauma patients in its first year. In its first year, Memorial Hospital has activated 773 trauma cases.
SIH trauma surgeon Dr. Antonio Lozada said most of the trauma cases are from motor vehicle accidents and falls, specifically falls in elderly patients, and a number of penetrating trauma, such as gunshot wounds.
Dr. Lozada said they recently stabilized a pediatric patient with a gunshot wound. The child was stabilized at Memorial, then transferred to St. Louis Children's Hospital.
"That patient would not have made it to St. Louis," Lozada said.
Dr. Grant V. Bochicchio, acting trauma director and a surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital of St. Louis, said the year-old trauma center is saving lives.
"We are preventing loss of limbs and saving lives. The trauma center is invaluable," he said.
When treating trauma patients, the first few hours can make a life-or-death difference. Bochicchio said a patient has better outcomes when they arrive at a center within 30 minutes.
"It all starts with patients," Burton said. "Having paramedics and emergency medical technicians is important to getting care started early rather than waiting until a patient shows up at the emergency department."
Dr. Joseph Haake, medical director of EMS for SIH and an emergency physician, said a large number of patients still arrive at the emergency department in a private vehicle.
For example, if an elderly person falls, they may be banged up but not realize they need emergency care. Often, bruises can indicate bleeding that might not be easily recognized. Calling an ambulance gets you staff that is trained to assess injuries and begin care before you arrive at the hospital. EMS can activate a trauma.
"We drop what we're doing and mobilize for the arrival of something terrifying," Haake said.
The emergency department gathers doctors, nurses and staff to do x-rays, draw blood, check heart rates and blood levels of oxygen immediately rather than waiting for everyone to come to the trauma bay, shaving time off that golden hour.
EMS can also begin care and communicate with the hospital for guidance.
"So many things can occur in the back of an ambulance that can help," Haake said.
Bochicchio said creating a trauma team is a growing process with a lot of new challenges. "The great thing is we have good people who want to make it work. It takes a village," he said.
That village goes beyond the emergency department to include EMS providers and first responders, ICU and floor nurses — all the people caring for the patient and doing the right things.
In addition to caring for trauma patients, the trauma center has brought advanced training to the SIH system. The hospital is teaching the trauma nurse specialty which consists of six to 12 weeks of college graduate work specializing in trauma.
They are providing advanced trauma life support training for doctors. Haake said this is very high level education for physicians. Emergency physicians and trauma surgeons at SIH have trained and are now certified as ATLS instructors.
"We are hoping to do more in the future," Haake said.
He added that they are looking at pre-hospital trauma training, which could bring specialized training to local emergency service providers.