Phoebe to Seek State Trauma Center Designation

Staff Report From Albany CEO

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

The Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Board of Directors voted Wednesday to pursue Level II trauma center designation from the Georgia Office of Emergency Medical Services/Trauma (OEMS/T).  The vote comes as Phoebe is planning a capital project to build a new helipad adjacent to the current main hospital emergency department, an important step toward creating a trauma center.

“Currently, we have the equipment, training and staff to properly handle many trauma cases.  This vote, however, shows our commitment to expanding our capabilities to provide lifesaving emergency care to the vast majority of patients who suffer traumatic injuries in our area,” said James E. Black, MD, Phoebe Medical Director of Emergency Medical Services.

Phoebe is working closely with the leadership of the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, includingChairman Dennis Ashley, MD, who is also Director of Trauma and Critical Care at The Medical Center (Navicent Health) and Chair of the Department of Surgery at Mercer University School of Medicine, both in Macon.  As part of the process, Phoebe will soon appoint a Trauma Coordinator, Trauma Medical Director and Trauma Registrars.  They will lead development of Phoebe’s trauma program based on recommendations established by the American College of Surgeons and to collect data, as required by OEMS/T.

Currently, there are only 10 Level II and 5 Level I designated trauma centers in Georgia (in addition to several centers specializing in burn and pediatric patients) and only one Level II center in the region served by Phoebe.  “There really isn’t a difference in the sophistication of clinical care provided by Level I and Level II centers.  The main distinction is Level I centers conduct research and education and participate in the training of residents.  We are confident a Level II designation for Phoebe would greatly benefit southwest Georgians and would keep more trauma patients closer to home for care,” Dr. Black said.

Trauma is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 – 44, and death rates increase as a patient’s distance from a trauma center increases.  Currently, the only Level II centers in Georgia south of Macon and west of Savannah are in Columbus and Thomasville.  “Studies prove a patient’s probability of survival improves dramatically when he or she is treated at a trauma center.  Right now, there is a gap in service in our part of the state.  We hope to close that gap by earning Level II trauma center designation,” said Dr. Black.

Once OEMS/T accepts Phoebe’s registry and after approximately a year and a half of preparation, a team of experts will review Phoebe’s submitted documents and conduct a site visit before making a recommendation to OEMS/T which, in turn, will submit a recommendation to the Medical Director for the Department of Public Health, OEMS/T who will decide whether to accept Phoebe into the statewide trauma network.

“This journey represents a major commitment by Phoebe to the people of southwest Georgia and involves an anticipated investment of more than $5.8M over the next five years.  We strongly believe a designated trauma center is needed in Albany, and it has long been a goal of Phoebe to join Georgia’s trauma care network.  After a great deal of long-term planning and preparation, we are convinced now is the right time to pursue this designation,” said Joel Wernick, Phoebe President & CEO.

Phoebe is already actively recruiting trauma surgeons who will play an integral role in achieving the state designation.  The new helipad is also an important part of Phoebe’s planned trauma program and will greatly enhance the care for trauma patients.  It will be built on top of the parking garage next to the emergency department, eliminating a number of parking spaces.

Wednesday morning, the Albany-Dougherty Historic Preservation Commission approved a plan to raze several structures adjacent to Phoebe’s main campus that sustained major storm damage two years ago.  That work will make room for additional parking and will relieve overcrowding in the small parking lots designated for emergency room and Community Care Clinic patients, thus making it easier for the public to access the main ER and the clinic.

“The helipad project alone is an investment of more than a million dollars in our patients.  We believe it will bolster our efforts to achieve trauma center designation by easing congestion and improving the transport of emergency patients.  Currently, helicopters transporting patients must land in a field a block away.  The new helipad will increase speed and efficiency in cases where seconds truly can make a difference,” said Jeff Flowers, Phoebe Senior Vice President for Operations.

Phoebe hopes to complete the helipad in the upcoming fiscal year and plans official notification soon to the Georgia Region VIII EMS Council and OEMS/T of its plans to seek trauma center designation.  The entire designation process should take 18 – 24 months.  “We are confident in our ability to meet the requirements set forth by the state.  We hope to earn official state designation as a trauma center and look forward to becoming the next member of the Georgia Trauma Care Network,” Wernick said.