Designation equips Memorial Hospital to handle trauma


JASPER — After years of work improving its trauma care, Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center achieved verification as a level-three trauma center in June.

The nationally-recognized verification comes from the American College of Surgeons and tells ambulance services that the hospital is equipped to handle the least severe trauma patients and stabilize more severe cases before transporting them to a level two or one trauma center. The verification marks Memorial Hospital as one of only four verified trauma centers in southern Indiana, all of which are on the west side of the state.

The designation is significant. A 2012 rule from the Emergency Medical Services Commission states that trauma patients must “be transported to a trauma center, unless transport exceeds 45 minutes or, in the judgment of the emergency medical services certified responder, a patient’s life will be endangered if care is delayed by going directly to a trauma center.” Before, emergency services in the area would have been required to transport trauma patients to Evansville; now, trauma patients can be brought to Memorial Hospital.

“With this certification, there is no question,” said Vicki Stuffle, trauma program director for Memorial Hospital. “Ambulance services will certainly bring their trauma patients here.”

In an emergency situation, having a trauma center at Memorial Hospital can mean the difference between life and death. Dr. Donald Vennekotter, the trauma medical director, cited the “golden hour” in trauma care, a guideline that says trauma patients need to be stabilized — which means have their heart rate and bleeding under control — within the first hour following the injury for the best chance of survival. Now, patients in Dubois and surrounding counties will have a better chance of making that golden hour because they will be in a hospital setting more quickly.

“In trauma, you go by the minute, not by the day,” Vennekotter said.

To achieve the verification, a hospital must prove they follow set trauma care guidelines that are nationally recognized. For Memorial Hospital, that meant adding some additional staff, more training and either moving equipment into the trauma center from operating rooms or purchasing additional equipment. For example, Stuffle said, the trauma center had three tourniquets on hand, but level three guidelines called for five.

The hospital began pursuing the verification in 2008. The process picked up speed in 2017 when the hospital completed its consultation visit from the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. In spring of this year, the American College of Surgeons completed the verification visit, and Memorial Hospital was awarded its level three verification in June.

“It’s been an intentional project,” Stuffle said. “We did not get here by chance.”

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