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Rice to seek level III trauma center designation

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital will seek designation as a level III trauma center under a new statewide system to better manage the care of people with traumatic injuries.

The city-owned hospital's board of directors voted Monday to apply for the designation.

The Minnesota Statewide Trauma System will help hospitals standardize their care of injured patients and ultimately result in improved survival rates, said Dr. George Gordon, chief medical officer at Rice Memorial Hospital.

"It affects a large number of people and it is well proven in the medical literature that if you have an organized trauma system, patients do better," he said.

Efforts to develop a statewide trauma system have been in the works for at least a decade, said Gordon, who was part of a group that lobbied the Minnesota Legislature to get a bill passed in 2005.

Minnesota was one of the last remaining states without a comprehensive system, he said.

Under the new statewide trauma system, there now will be a more coordinated approach to how hospitals and ambulance services provide care for the injured.

It will improve the way injured patients are triaged and help ensure they receive definitive care at the appropriate level as soon as possible.

Other states that have adopted comprehensive trauma systems have seen increased survival rates from injuries.

In particular, a coordinated statewide trauma system could help narrow the gap between rural and urban survival rates from motor vehicle crashes in Minnesota. Although slightly fewer than half of the state's highway crashes happen on rural roads, rural crashes account for two-thirds of Minnesota's traffic fatalities each year.

The Minnesota Statewide Trauma System takes final effect on July 1, 2009.

It'll take about six weeks for Rice Memorial Hospital to complete the paperwork for its application to become a level III center, said Maureen Ideker, chief nursing officer.

The hospital then will undergo an on-site survey by the Minnesota Department of Health to determine if it meets all the criteria.

"They're just starting to do the surveys now. The majority of hospitals will be in the system," Ideker said.

There are four levels. The top two are for trauma centers with the highest capabilities to treat severe injuries such as head injury, spinal cord injury or multiple broken bones.

Level III centers, such as Rice, are less specialized but must still meet a list of criteria, including the availability of emergency surgery and intensive care.

Many of these patients might have life-threatening injuries, Gordon said. "We have managed those kinds of patients at Rice."

Level IV is for the smallest hospitals. People with less severe injuries can be treated at one of these hospitals, or stabilized for transfer to a larger facility.

Gordon and Ideker said the level III designation won't require any significant change by Rice Hospital. Perhaps the biggest issue will be ensuring that the staff receives additional training, particularly among ancillary services such as laboratory and radiology.

"Trauma is a hospital-wide issue so there are training requirements across the board," Gordon said.