May 27, 2009 in City

Deaconess to drop trauma care

All critical injuries would be treated at Sacred Heart
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Deaconess Medical Center intends to stop serving as a major trauma hospital this year, leaving the business of treating people critically wounded in violent crashes, accidents and crimes to competitor Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Deaconess said it would continue to offer emergency room services for people with less serious injuries.

“Emergency medicine would remain an integral part of our hospital,” Deaconess spokeswoman Christine Varela said. “We see it as our front door to the community.”

The move away from trauma care would be a major change, leaving Sacred Heart as the only major trauma center in Spokane starting in the fall.

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, chief executive officer at Sacred Heart, said he received a telephone call from Deaconess interim CEO Tim Hingtgen late last week about the pending changes.

Both hospitals currently share the designation of Level II trauma center, enabling them to receive patients who are unconscious or in shock or have severely abnormal vital signs. This includes people with obviously severe injuries such as gunshot wounds.

The shared-designation arrangement was based on a 14-year-old joint operating agreement that called on the hospitals to alternate week by week as the region’s trauma center.

Several months ago Deaconess officials were notified that Sacred Heart intended to abandon the agreement and offer Level II trauma services at all times.

Varela said Deaconess faced a competitive choice: Should the hospital duplicate Sacred Heart’s everyday trauma care or reallocate those resources to other health care needs?

“After consideration and thoughtful review, Deaconess administration decided to take forth a recommendation to the Deaconess board to not renew our Level II trauma designation,” she said, adding that just 1 percent of the emergency room visits at Deaconess originate as Level II trauma cases.

“Whatever is decided, it will be orderly for trauma patients,” Varela said.

The Washington State Department of Health regulates trauma services, and the Deaconess designation expires this autumn.

Deaconess has been undergoing changes since September, when it was bought by Community Health Systems Inc., a large for-profit hospital company based in Tennessee.

As an institution, Deaconess has been treating patients suffering life-threatening traumas since its founding 112 years ago.

There are about 25 trauma cases each week.

Agwunobi said Sacred Heart would be ready to ensure Spokane has 365 days of trauma care.

The hospital already treats every trauma case involving children.

Staffing could be ramped up soon to cover all adult cases, too, he said.

The added responsibility of being the only major trauma hospital for the region, Agwunobi said, would bolster Sacred Heart’s proposal to expand. The plans are being vetted by state regulators.

Sacred Heart and Deaconess have been talking for two years about having just one Level II trauma center in the community, said Elaine Couture, Sacred Heart’s chief operating officer and president of Holy Family Hospital.

Holy Family and Valley Hospital and Medical Center are designated Level III trauma centers, meaning they’ll usually treat patients who are injured but stable.

Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene offers trauma care services and staffing levels similar to those of Sacred Heart and Deaconess.

Dr. James Nania, who has been treating trauma patients at Deaconess for 30 years, said Tuesday evening that the hospital’s local advisory board planned to meet today to consider the proposal.

“They’ll give it a good look,” Nania said. “I do think their input will be important.

“At this point, it’s probably a little premature for me to comment on it.”

John Stucke can be reached at (509) 459-5419 or johnst@spokesman.com.

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