February 3, 2013|
Published in the Ocala Star Banner on Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.
As a trauma surgeon with 35 years of experience, I have seen and treated all types of life-threatening traumatic injuries, and patients have the best chance for survival when they receive trauma care within 60 minutes of their injury. Here in Florida, only 35 percent of trauma patients are treated in designated trauma centers, compared to the state's published goal of 65 percent, and lives are being lost as a result.
Our state is divided into 19 trauma service areas, and unfortunately some of these areas have no active trauma center.
What is jarring is that some would pose the question of whether Marion County, in the case of Ocala Regional Medical Center, even needs a state-of-art trauma center. This is simply preposterous and, quite frankly, fails to put the needs of the community and quality trauma care first.
The University of South Florida and Hospital Corporation of America formed the USF HCA Trauma Network in 2010 with the goal of increasing the number of Floridians who have access to trauma care. I'm proud to say we have already opened six trauma centers in underserved areas across the state.
Our success has drawn some criticism and legal challenges, not because of the quality of our care, but because we dared to upset the status quo by bringing the highest level of surgical care to trauma patients in need. Here is the reality: Shands Gainesville, Shands Jacksonville, and Ocala-based Munroe Regional are trying to shut down our trauma center at Ocala Regional Medical Center. Meanwhile, Jackson North and Jackson South in Miami are trying to shut down our trauma centers at Ocala and Kendall Regional Medical Centers.
Our opponents clearly see our effort to build a statewide network as competition and are putting their business objectives first — not patient interests. The evidence is clear: Shands Gainesville, Shands Jacksonville, Jackson North, and Jackson South are not in the same trauma service area as Ocala, and while Munroe is, it doesn't have a trauma center. What is even more astonishing is their move to shut down Kendall's trauma center. Since its opening more than a year ago, our Kendall team has saved more than 1,000 lives and recently added a state-of-the-art burn unit.
Bottom line, if these challenges are successful, communities in these areas will be deprived of accessible trauma care where patient survival is critical.
The need for accessible trauma care for Marion County residents is underscored by the survival story of Dereck Welzh. Prior to the opening of the new trauma center at Ocala Regional, seriously injured patients would be transported to Gainesville or Tampa, losing critical time, which could be the difference between life and death. Welzh knows what this means all too well. After his spleen ruptured, he died twice of an aneurysm — once in the ambulance and once on the table at Ocala Regional. His chance of survival was between 2 percent and 5 percent, but because of the quality, accessible trauma care in Ocala, he is alive today.
The 300 Marion County patients a year who were subject to long ambulance rides or airlifts to distant trauma centers can now see an expert trauma surgeon in Ocala within minutes — and when minutes matter, every second counts. True, that means 300 fewer patients for hospitals in Gainesville and Tampa; but much more important, it means improved survival chances for patients and their families.
Economic self-interest is the driving factor to the pushback by our opponents. Case in point is the fact that Shands and Jackson, for instance, did not raise any concerns when Tallahassee Memorial Hospital or Bay Medical Center in Panama City filed their trauma applications. Why? The answer is simple: These facilities did not impact their bottom line.
Our health care providers — and policymakers — should concentrate on developing the best means to effectively get care to the patients who need it, not fighting turf battles or pushing self-interested litigation.
We should all work together to build the best trauma system in the country for the sake of saving the most lives and making a positive impact in our communities.
Dr. James M. Hurst, M.D., FACS is the medical director of the USF HCA Trauma Network and a professor of surgery at the University of South Florida.