If approved by the Georgia Department of Community Health, Kennestone would become the only trauma center serving Cobb, Bartow, Cherokee, Paulding and Douglas counties.
The not-for-profit system has hired a trauma director and the hospital is already equipped with three emergency trauma rooms, but WellStar will need to hire a team of physicians who will focus on trauma care. The state designation will likely mean hundreds more patients each year for Kennestone.
"As we look at it, there is going to be some investment required as we formalize our role with trauma," said Candice Saunders, Kennestone's executive vice president and administrator, though she and other officials declined to say how much it is investing in the effort.
"We think it's the right thing to do. We're the community's hospital. We're committed to meeting the needs of our community," Sanders said. The data is very clear that as you have a designed trauma program you improve the quality and the outcomes of care."
In medical terminology, "trauma" refers to any serious injury from an accident or act of violence, such as car crashes, a fall from a ladder, a stabbing or gunshot wound.
Patients who suffer trauma usually need to be taken to a trauma center and cared for as soon as possible following an accident or violence in order to increase their chances for survival. This timeline is often referred to as the "golden hour," because the hour following the trauma is the key.
Currently there are 16 designated trauma centers in the state. Only one Level I trauma center, Grady Memorial Hospital, serves the metro-Atlanta area. Metro-Atlanta also has three Level II trauma centers - Atlanta Medical Center, Gwinnett Medical Center and North Fulton Medical Center in Roswell. Level I is the highest level of designation for trauma centers, and provides the greatest level of trauma care, prevention and rehabilitation, while Level IV is the lowest. A Level II center generally provides the same trauma and specialty care to patients as a Level I center, but lacks the research facilities required to give it the top distinction.
"If you look at national data, the mortality rate for patients seen in either a designated or verified trauma center is 25 percent lower, because you have a commitment around the resources and the model in which you care for those patients," WellStar Kennestone Executive Vice President for Emergency and Surgical Services Patricia Mayne said.
Mayne, who is leading WellStar's application process, said the hospital began looking at what it would take to receive the trauma care designation in fall 2009. At that time, it created a steering committee made up of seven hospital administrators and 18 doctors, representing a variety of specialties, to design a plan and medical model of care for trauma patients.
Since Kennestone already serves trauma patients, and has three trauma exam rooms and 63 exam rooms in its emergency department, it has nearly all of the equipment it would need. Saunders said the hospital does not currently have any plans to expand the number of its trauma rooms.
WellStar has hired Dr. Barry Renz, a traumatologist who most recently worked at Gwinnett Medical Center, as its medical director for the trauma program. Renz will begin working at Kennestone in the spring of 2011. WellStar plans to hire a team of physicians who will work hand-in-hand with emergency room doctors and nurses. Although it will not hire any more nurses, the hospital is working to train and certify more nurses in trauma care.
When a trauma patient comes into the emergency room, the emergency room doctors and trauma physicians will work to stabilize the patient and assess their needs. From there, the trauma physician will contact the specialty doctors needed to fully care for the patient, whether that be a orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon.
"It's very much an inter-disciplinary type of care model and having that physician right there, bringing all those resources there is where you get the benefit," Saunders said.
In the case of a large-scale accident, such as a natural disaster or a building explosion, designated trauma centers are relied on to accept the most seriously injured trauma patients, WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster said. EMS crews work with local hospitals to make sure those severely injured trauma patients are sent to a trauma care center and that that center is not overburdened.
Much of the work it takes to become a designated trauma center will require the hospital to submit data regarding its care of trauma patients to the Georgia Department of Community Health. Kennestone officials hope to begin the data collection process, which will last about three months, in January. From there, an official from the state will come out to do an on-site visit. The hope, Mayne said, is to be certified by early summer of 2011.
Currently, Kennestone sees about 1,300 patients each year in its emergency room. While most come in ground ambulances, the hospital receives almost 10 patients per month via helicopter, but Mayne said not all of those patients are related to trauma. She doubted that the number of patients arriving via helicopter would increase significantly with hospital receiving its trauma center designation.
Mayne and her staff estimated that the trauma care center designation would increase the number of patients Kennestone sees by about 250 to 450 per year, which equates to one to two patients per day.
The WellStar board of trustees voted at its Thursday meeting to authorize Kennestone to submit the application to become a designated trauma care center.
"There exists a real community need to improve the quality and access to trauma care for the residents of Northwest Georgia," said Randall Bentley, chairman of the WellStar board of trustees. "WellStar is our community healthcare organization for this area, and obtaining this important designation is consistent with the mission of WellStar."
In the November General Election, voters voted down a statewide amendment aimed to help upgrade and expand the state's trauma network, which required residents to pay an extra $10 in annual car registration fees.
Bowermaster said that Kennestone's designation application process was not started in anticipation of the amendment passing. Although the tag tax could have created a permanent revenue source for funding of a trauma care center for Kennestone, the defeat of the amendment has no affect on WellStar moving forward with seeking the designation, Bowermaster said.