CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - The ‘trauma desert’ in Southern Illinois effectively ended at 7 a.m. Monday, Nov. 4, when the SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale went live as a Level II trauma center.
The new designation will make SIH Memorial Hospital the only trauma center in Illinois south of Springfield, Mo. and will increase access to life-saving surgeries for more people in the Heartland.
Dr. Eduardo Smith-Singares used to work at a Level I trauma center in Chicago and is now one of six trauma surgeons bringing new medical expertise to the SIH Trauma Program in Carbondale.
“Trauma is the most common cause of death for every American between 1 and 49, and it’s the first cause of morbidity and mortality for the children of our area,” Smith-Singares said. "This is my opportunity now to actually make a difference in a place where the need is the highest.”
Until now, patients with critical injuries were put on a 40-minute flight to St. Louis, Mo. or a 40-minute flight to Evansville, Indiana for special treatments.
“All of the emergency conditions that used to require an emergency transfer in the middle of the night. A ruptured appendix, an inflamed gull bladder, a heart incarcerated hernia we can handle those here now," Smith-Singares said. “In addition to that all of us are certified intensives, so we can staff the ICU with a new level of critical care medicine that is applied to surgery patients. It improves the overall care that we provide in the whole hospital.”
Kris Whitlock is a paramedic and clinical base supervisor for Arch Air Medical Services at the Southern Illinois airport.
He said having a new trauma center close by will make for shorter flights and in turn, save more lives.
“I’ve been a paramedic here for 15 years. We’ve never had this and I can tell you I’ve seen people who did not survive their injuries because it was too far to get to a trauma center," Whitlock said. "I’m from here, I was born and raised so to know if my family members are hurt or if I’m hurt. Care is right down the street. It’s not two hours away.”
During its transition to become a Level II trauma center, the SIH Memorial Hospital in Carbondale has already treated more than 300 patients with traumatic injuries this year.
“Their families don’t need to uproot themselves and experience the anguish of having to go to another state or city," Smith-Singares said. "Instead of spending hours that could’ve been productive in our community, they’re there waiting for their loved ones to get better. The economic impact of this is significant and so is the emotional.”
On Friday, Nov. 1, SIH Memorial Hospital readied their team with a live trauma drill.
The drill is conducted in real-time to test the responses of the hospital staff.
There were at least 28 employees involved in the drill, including the emergency department, switchboard, security, trauma emergency team, x-ray and imaging, operating room, intensive care unit and surgical.
The hospital admin, Al Taylor, portrayed a patient injured in a car accident on RT 13. He was flown to the hospital by Arch Air Methods.
Another test patient was taken to the hospital by Jackson County Ambulance.
Medical Director of Southern Illinois Regional EMS Joseph Haake, MD, said a trauma center plays a role in the critical ‘golden hour,’ which is the time from injury to surgical intervention.
“There’s a military saying, ‘the fate of the wounded lies in the hands who first deliver care’…what that means is your outcome is drastically affected by the first people who respond to you, they can make the biggest difference." said Dr Haake, "Statistics show survivability is greatly increased if that surgical intervention is complete within the first 60 minutes.“Not from the time when someone calls 9-1-1, but from the time of the actual event itself.”
Even with the availability of medical air service, prior to trauma center designation, it remained difficult if not impossible to get patients to surgery within the golden hour, said SIH EMS Coordinator Brad Robinson.
“It was always on the minds of medical flight and medical ground crews, emergency physicians, nurses and surgical staff. We’ve been treading water with weights on our ankles for years. This is an opportunity to actually take off, swim and keep our heads above water and do good things for our patients,” Robinson said.
Jackson County Ambulance Director Kenton Schafer said the significance of knowing patients will receive definitive care is “life-changing”.
“We’ve never had that here. I think this will be as huge to our region as the hospital’s STEMI (critical cardiac care) and stroke programs. This changes the direction of all trauma in our county; there is no area too far and more than 30 minutes from Carbondale. We know exactly where we are going,” Schafer said.
SIH President and CEO Rex Budde cited colossal collaboration behind the endeavor to create the trauma center.
It was part of SIH strategic plan set 2015.
“Countless individuals rolled up their sleeves to cement relationships – regional physicians, surgeons, staff, ground and air ambulance services – and develop the required training, policy, protocol and procedures to meet the rigorous standards required by the Illinois Department of Public Health,” said CEO Rex Budde
In recent years, nearly 800 patients initially treated in Carbondale were ultimately transferred to trauma centers in St. Louis, Missouri, and/or Evansville, Indiana.
“One of the most hopeless things you can do is follow an ambulance to St. Louis or know that a loved one has been put on a helicopter and you have to get to them,” Budde said.