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Medical center busy before, since receiving state trauma designation
Hospital plans to add more specialists later in year
0511trauma 2
Orthopedic traumatologist Brandon Bruce, center, performs reductive surgery on a patient’s leg Thursday afternoon at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. Certified surgical tech Kodi Blackstock, left, and surgical tech Melony Nelso assist. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Trauma designations

Northeast Georgia Medical Center now has a Level II trauma designation. Hospitals such as Atlanta Medical Center and Grady Memorial Hospital are Level I.

Level I
• Can manage any type of trauma patient and multiple patients at one time
• Does trauma research
• Conducts trauma medical education, including residency programs
• Acts as a resource center for the region

Level II
• Can manage the same type of patients as a Level I center
• Not required to do trauma research
• Not required to have residency programs

There’s no belittling a big celebration featuring the governor, food and the unveiling of a new sign.

But Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s festivities Monday around its new trauma designation were mainly just that — a pause to recognize a milestone achievement in the Gainesville hospital’s history, officials said.

Afterward, it was back to business.

“It just gave us a title,” said Dr. John H. Adamski II, medical director of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. “It told us the state has seen we have the people and resources available, but the truth is we were practicing to that level before the designation.”

The hospital had to show it could treat serious trauma patients before it got the Level II designation in December from the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Emergency Medical Services & Trauma Office.

But since its trauma status became official, activity has picked up, and numbers are bearing that out. Between December and April, the hospital had 439 trauma cases, compared to 340 for the same period last year, said Deb Battle, director of Trauma & Acute Care Surgery.

Patients who, based on severity of their injuries, would have been flown to Level I trauma centers, such as Atlanta Medical Center and Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, now are being treated in Gainesville.

“We had something like six or seven gunshot wounds in the first month after official designation,” Adamski said during an interview last week with other trauma staff in one of the center’s two heavily equipped treatment rooms.

Georgia has four trauma designations, with the highest being Level I. Level I and Level II treat serious injuries of all types, with the biggest difference being that Level I centers must be teaching hospitals.

Even with a Level II designation, patients needing specialized attention could be sent to other hospitals. For example, burn victims would go to a designated burn center, and spinal-cord-injury victims would go to the Shepherd Clinic in Atlanta.

NGMC, which is part of Gainesville’s Northeast Georgia Health System, recognized some 15 years ago that the hospital — as the home to one of Georgia’s busiest emergency rooms — needed to be able to treat the most serious of cases, keeping patients and their families closer to home.

A trauma study committee was later formed, “because we wanted to be sure, as we made this decision to move forward, that it was the right decision for the entire community,” said Carol Burrell, the health system’s president and CEO, during the ceremony that featured Gov. Nathan Deal, a trauma survivor and other dignitaries.

Battle was later named to her post, and she “began to work in earnest to put the processes in place to move us toward designation,” Burrell said.

Other key players were involved or later added, including Adamski, who joined NGMC in December 2012.

In a February interview, Adamski told The Times about the need to fill a regional void in health care, noting a Level II designation for the hospital would be a first for the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission’s Region 2, which covers Northeast Georgia.

“The mortality rate from trauma in Georgia is 20 percent higher than other states and that’s due to the fact that right now there are ... regions without designated trauma centers,” he said at the time.

And with Northeast Georgia’s hills and valleys, making it difficult to reach some victims, “you’re already behind the eight ball in terms of transporting someone down to another facility,” he said.

NGMC got the designation it had been waiting for on Dec. 16, and there was immediate jubilation among hospital officials.

“While we are extremely proud of what this means for our organization, we are even more aware of (the) designation’s true meaning — better access and higher-quality trauma care for the patients we serve in Northeast Georgia,” Adamski said then.

Adding orthopedics to the trauma team proved a crucial link, and those pieces have been added since the designation.

“Whether it’s trauma or nontrauma, these are complicated fractures ... and now we have somebody who can handle it,” Adamski said.

The hospital is planning to add another orthopedic traumatologist and two more general/critical care surgeons later this year.

“When they arrive, that’s going to be an additional part of our (program) that will make things work even more efficiently,” Adamski said.

Dr. Daniel Rhoads, an orthopedic trauma surgeon, said the “one thing that’s been the biggest benefit to (having) a trauma center is the hospital has committed to two operating rooms ... and that really speeds up patient care.

“I had a hip fracture that came in this morning that I’ve already operated on, as opposed to ... I might do it tomorrow or the next day,” Rhoads said. “Now, we can do it right away.”

The emergency room often serves as “ground zero” for trauma cases, but it actually becomes “one of the smaller pieces” of a trauma program, Burrell said.

The effort involves many components, from emergency responders to home care services.

“It takes a full team of specialized professionals to successfully care for trauma patients ... and helping them get back to being productive members of society,” Burrell said.

Dr. Brandon Bruce, an orthopedic traumatologist who arrived this year from the University of Kentucky, said the program involves “making multidisciplinary rounds with patients, involving a nurse, therapist, doctor and case management.

“It makes a difference in the length of stay and just all being on the same page,” he said. “It’s just coordination of care.”

While trauma care may seem it’s all about injuries stemming from some sudden, violent cause, Adamski said there’s a strong element of preventive care.

“We all hear about what we do when we’re in the hospital, but the best solution to any traumatic injury is to prevent it,” he said.

“And the only way we can do that is reaching out” to the community in programs through elderly groups and such organizations as Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County.

“There are other things that are just as important as taking care of the gunshot wound next door,” Adamski said.

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