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Hospital's new trauma designation benefits region
Designation means faster treatment of risky patients
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Northeast Georgia Medical Center emergency staff, from left, registered nurses Jamie South, Holly McLaren and Debbie Callahan and emergency room doctors Gary Kempler and John Adamski. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Emergency medical care has taken a sudden, huge leap forward in Hall County, especially for those with serious injuries.

“Now we’ll start to see some of the sicker and more injured patients who otherwise would have been sent to facilities elsewhere,” said Dr. John H. Adamski II, Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s medical director of trauma and acute care surgery, following Monday’s announcement the hospital had received a Level II trauma care designation.

“Those patients will be transported to us in a quicker manner ... and that increases our experiences in terms of taking care of the patients.”

With the designation, there shouldn’t be any lag time in the hospital accepting trauma patients, because “to be designated, we’ve had all the resources and the personnel in place for a good amount of time now,” Adamski said.

The hospital will be adding a trauma orthopedist in January, said nurse practitioner Deb Battle, director of trauma and acute care surgery service at the hospital.

“That will be another coup for the hospital to have that resource,” she said. “Right now, even with the designation, there are still some complex orthopedic procedures that would have to be transferred” to Atlanta Medical Center or Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

“Our staff has grown not just with physicians, but with outreach people, so that we can improve injury prevention and safety programs,” Adamski said.

The hospital also hopes to better “evaluate the outcomes of our patients we’re treating, not just within our own internal way but on a national database,” he said.

“Trauma is a public good, a public service, just like (emergency medical services), fire and police departments,” Adamski said. “The hospital is doing what it needs to do for this community and this region, and then regionally, we’re doing what we need to do for this state.”

Battle said another major next step is developing a regional trauma advisory council, which involves the hospitals in a region and EMS “coming together and establishing a region trauma plan.”

“We’re one of two regions in the state that hasn’t had one,” she said.

Georgia has four trauma designations, with the highest being Level I.

Those hospitals, which include Atlanta Medical Center and Grady, “offer the greatest level of comprehensive trauma care, from prevention through rehabilitation,” according to the Georgia Department of Community Health.

NGMC spokeswoman Melissa Tymchuk has said the biggest difference is that Level I centers must be teaching hospitals.

A Level II center “generally can provide the same level of clinical care as a Level I, but usually does not have the focus on research, education and systems planning,” the state says.

“Some patients with very complex injuries may require transfer to a Level I center.”

NGMC received its designation from the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Emergency Medical Services & Trauma Office, which had sent a survey team for a couple of visits, including the latest one on Dec. 5.

That group was basically following up “on opportunities they identified during their visit in May,” Adamski said.

“We’re really enthusiastic about (the designation),” said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, the public health department’s director of health protection. “We’ve been anticipating this for quite some time.”

Officials “know there are a lot of trauma patients in (Northeast Georgia) that have had to be transported lengthy distances to get to a designated trauma center, and we have felt for a long time that (NGMC) had the capability to become a trauma center.”

The hospital has done “an absolutely bang-up job of achieving that,” O’Neal said.

“They also have a superb nursing staff and everything they need in the way of operative equipment and outreach into the community. And the degree of administrative support is probably unequaled across the state.”

Brad Nurkin, medical center president, has said the designation “is a crowning achievement for our organization and represents the culmination of more than four years of work.”

The designation has drawn raves from other officials statewide.

“This is a big deal because these designations can prove the difference between life and death in a trauma situation,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “I’m proud of (the hospital), and I appreciate the important service they provide to the people in this region.”

Billy Thurmond, director of Dawson County Emergency Services, said his agency knows “how long and hard (NGMC) has worked to accomplish this goal.

“This provides our county with a shorter transport time to a trauma center, (giving) our citizens earlier access to the care they need and deserve,” he said.

David Kimbrell, chief of Hall County Fire Services and the county’s emergency management director, said the designation also benefits the families of trauma victims.

“In the past, people would be separated (from) their families while they’re flown to Atlanta, and the family would have to spend the time to get down there,” he said.

“But probably the best benefit is much better care that the hospital is able to provide, and we can get them to that care much quicker.”

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