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Trauma system coming to Decatur area

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Decatur and other areas of North Alabama will soon have a system in place to help stop the top killer of people 45 and younger.

The killer is traumatic injury, usually associated with automobile accidents and gunshots or stab wounds.

The system is a regional trauma model coordinated out of Huntsville Hospital but involving other hospitals.

Either Decatur General Hospital or Cullman Regional Hospital will be the area's first facility to test the system with Huntsville.

Other hospitals in Morgan, Lawrence, Limestone and seven other counties in public health Area 1 will join the regional system during the next few weeks.

Target date later this month

The target date to start coordinated North Alabama trauma response is mid- to late November, said Dr. Tony Najjar, senior trauma surgeon at Huntsville Hospital, who heads the regional effort. He said the regional plan has been in the works at least five years.

The aim is to help people in time to keep them alive, taking each patient to the hospital that can serve him best — not necessarily the nearest hospital.

"Our goal is to never have to transfer anyone (between hospitals) again," said Dr. John Campbell, director of the state Health Department's office of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma. "No other state has this."

The area hospitals' entry into regional trauma response was announced Monday at the first meeting of the Alabama Trauma Advisory Council.

The council was formed as the result of a law passed in 2007 that sets the framework for a trauma system for the whole state. The state will have six regions.

Birmingham-area model

The model for the state's plan is the trauma system already in place in Birmingham-Jefferson County and six surrounding counties since 1995.

One key to that system's success is knowledge about which hospital is the best fit to treat a particular trauma injury. Computer software will eventually link hospitals and emergency medical responders with the information statewide.

Dr. Don Williamson, state health officer, said data from the Birmingham-Jefferson program show a 12 percent reduction in deaths since the system went into operation.

Motor vehicle accidents account for 80 percent of all trauma cases in Alabama. Knife and gunshot wounds make up the bulk of other trauma incidents, he added.

The council heard from Chris Osborne, a former television journalist who needed trauma care in a hurry when a hit-and-run driver collided with his motorcycle and left him for dead.

Now an American Red Cross staff member in Birmingham, Osborne lost part of a leg as a result of the accident. He credits his life to quick help from Birmingham's system, which routed him to the best hospital for his injury.

Williamson said coordinated trauma response helps critically injured patients get the help they need soon enough to stay alive.

One key, he said, is specialized training that helps responders know when certain types of trauma require more intensive response, even if the victim does not show visible signs of injury.

One example is a person who was in the car with someone who broke a large leg bone because of violent force in the accident.

Williamson said such victims need examination for internal injuries, including silent bleeding, that are not visibly obvious but could result in death.

Getting the right care fast often makes the difference between life and death for a critically injured person. Williamson said the right kind of rapid response is especially critical in rural areas that may be 20 or 30 miles from a hospital.

Alabama's statewide system will include at least one hospital in each region that has all needed equipment and staff trained in trauma response.

Williamson said he first saw the need for a statewide trauma system 14 years ago. He estimates the price tag for full implementation at $40 million.

He said Alabama will need at least 18 months to implement the system statewide. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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