Mercy trauma center is keeping patients in town

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June 22, 2009
— Since becoming a trauma center, Mercy Hospital hasn't needed to transfer as many patients to larger hospitals.

Mercy Hospital spent years ramping up its technology and staff to earn the state designation of level 3 trauma center.

The process started in 2001, when the hospital's board of directors voted to become a trauma center. Mercy began working with University Hospital and the American College of Surgeons. It added equipment, training and staff.

With the services now offered, Mercy is operating as a level 2 trauma center, though it is recognized as a level 3, administrative fellow Paul Amendt said.

The 24/7 services mean the hospital can handle cases that before were sent to Madison or other larger regional hospitals. From January to May 2008, there were 131 trauma patients, and 22 of those were transferred out. During the same time in 2009, there were 249 trauma activations, and 17 of those
were transferred out.

And, the trauma center is attracting patients.

Instead of hauling patients away, helicopters often now bring patients to Mercy from smaller hospitals or from Mercy Health System facilities across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Amendt said.

"Which for Janesville, (did) you ever think you'd see the day when helicopters were bringing patients here? … It's happening; it's here now," he said.

When Vicky Swenson told people her 15-year-old son had a craniotomy after a truck accident, the first question many asked was, "Where is he? Madison? Rockford?"

They couldn't believe her response, "Mercy Hospital," because they didn't know that level of care was provided in Janesville, she said.

"Obviously, a lot of people don't realize that because it's the first question everyone asked," she said.

What is trauma?

Trauma is an injury caused by a force, said Lori McKibben, trauma program coordinator.

That could be a blunt or penetrating injury caused by anything from a fall or vehicle crash to a lightning strike or drowning.

"It incorporates a lot of things," she said.

The decision to declare a trauma begins at the scene with EMS, said Dr. Robb Whinney, Mercy's new trauma director.

"They decide that starting in the field, but by the time they get here, we've mobilized a whole group of people to be here when they walk through the door," he said.

Two of the emergency department's 15 rooms are specially outfitted for trauma, though it can handle more, he said.

The 'trauma center'

You won't see a new building labeled "Trauma Center" at Mercy. The changes are more about redundancies in the system and an extra level of staff to respond specifically for traumas.

"It kind of exists in a realm," Amendt said.

"If you watch TV, you would think it ends at the (emergency room). It's far from that. It's very, very broad."

When a trauma is headed to the ER, each member of the trauma team receives a page. Depending on the severity of the trauma, more members are paged.

Doctors treat and evaluate the patient in the emergency room, deciding whether the person needs to go straight to the operating room, to the critical care unit or to the general floor, Whinney said.

The hospital added three trauma surgeons to provide around-the-clock care, seven days a week, as well as additional trauma staff. The trauma staff is in addition to the emergency room staff, though some emergency room staff assist in a trauma.

The majority of life-threatening injuries happen in the head, stomach or bones, Whinney said, so redundancies have been built up to cover those cases. Neurological, heart and orthopedic teams are on-call 24/7—meaning they'll be in the room within 15 minutes, he said.

Technology also has been added over the years to include, for example, a CT scanner with "64-slice" technology. Renovations across the hospital have made state-of-the-art rooms.

The changes make it possible for a trauma patient to be treated from entry to discharge all in the same building, Whinney said. For the patient and family, that's priceless, he said.

If problems develop, the same people are managing the care, he said.

The hospital treated 36 trauma patients in the last two months of 2008 and 105 through May of this year.

Staying in town

Julie Murphy of Janesville was "one of those people" who said if she ever was unconscious, she didn't want to be taken to Mercy Hospital.

"If I couldn't respond, please don't take me to Mercy Hospital," she said from her bed there, three weeks after she was in a car accident on Milwaukee Street.

"But I have got to tell you … I feel so blessed," she said. "I had to come here, and I wasn't able to make a choice. This is where they brought me. But this trauma team is fantastic. They are absolutely great."

Murphy broke her nose, cracked several ribs, broke a bone in her hip and suffered cuts and bruises when her airbag didn't go off in the passenger seat of the car, she said.

Members of the trauma team explained everything throughout Murphy's care, she said, and she could tell "their care is genuine."

Mercy's trauma staff treated 15-year-old Clinton sophomore Alex Quaerna after he fell off the back of a truck while his dad and brother were picking up fallen wood on the side of the road last month.

The injuries sent Alex to the operating room for a craniotomy, a surgical operation in which part of the skull is removed to access the brain. His care continued in the critical care and rehab units at Mercy, said his mother, Vicky Swenson.

Swenson said she couldn't imagine how she would have made it through the traumatic weeks if Alex had been treated in Madison or somewhere just as far. Had he been taken to Madison, she would have had three options: get a hotel room in Madison, make the trip five times a week or not see her son.

"Luckily, I live five minutes away from (Mercy) hospital," she said. "It's made a very difficult situation a lot easier."

The continuity of Alex's care was outstanding, trauma staff members were professional and informative, Swenson said, and she didn't have complaints about even one staff member.

Murphy echoed those remarks. She's a mother of four and said her treatment at Mercy made life easier on her family, which she thanked for being so supportive.

"I feel so blessed," she said. "What a nice bunch."

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