WSFA 12 News Investigation: Why Doesn't Montgomery Have a Level One Trauma Center?

Published: Feb. 28, 2008 at 6:01 PM CST
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Montgomery, Al. (WSFA) --Right now, if you are critically injured in an accident you have only three choices in the state of Alabama for level one trauma care.

One hospital is located in Huntsville and two are in Birmingham.

So, how does that affect your level of care here in the Montgomery area?

WSFA 12 News did some investigating to learn what the state has planned for your future.

It can happen in the blink of an eye. You're involved in an accident and you need immediate help. But, while you wait time ticks away.

State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson says, "Overwhelmingly in Alabama, and in the rest of the nation, people end up going to the closest hospital. The closest hospital may be the right hospital, but it also may not be the right hospital."

If you are unable to speak, who makes that decision? And is it in your best interest?

In alabama there are only a handful of level one trauma centers, or hospitals equipped to handle the most serious trauma cases.

None are located in Montgomery.

"Getting you to the right hospital in the first hour can literally make the difference between life and death," says Williamson.

The first hour after you're injured is called "The Golden Hour", sixty critical minutes that determine your survival rate.

Haynes Ambulance Service tries to get on the scene within ten minutes and assess your injuries.

Last year they responded to more than 25,000 emergency calls, about a fourth were trauma cases.

Haynes spokesman Kirk Barrett says, "We try to go to the closest one [hospital] for time, but if they don't have the services available they tell us on the phone or if they're overloaded."

And if the hospital is full or can't provide help it means searching for another ER.

Wlliamson is a member of a state mandated Trauma Advisory Council, a group of health care workers from across the state charged with the responsibility of coming up with a system that will route trauma patients to the hospital that can give them the best care.

If we're successful it sends only the most ill patients to the place staffed and equiped to take care of the most ill patients," says Williamson.

The council's proposal would locate a statewide trauma center in Clanton, and it would recieve calls from across the state, "What the trauma system does is it would identify first the patients that need to be included in the trauma system. Then it monitors hospitals in a geographical area to determine what their capacities area," Williams explains.

But, in order for that plan to work, hospitals would have to commit to being a part of that trauma system.

It also means hospitals must step up and become level one trauma centers.

The Trauma Advisory Council has a year and a half to come up with a workable system.

In the meantime, the Montgomery area relies on a system that is less than perfect.

Baptist Medical Center has the city's only board certified trauma doctor and he is busy.

"'s like holding your breath," says Dr. John Mark Vermillion of Baptist Medical Center South.

This week, eight hospitals in north Alabama kicked off it's trauma system for the northern region.

All emergency calls are now being routed through that dispatch center in Birmingham.

Tonight on WSFA 12 News we will continue our look at the area's trauma care and learn why we don't have more trauma doctors or a level one trauma center in this area.