St. David’s South Austin Medical Center unveiled a new trauma unit with more beds April 4 and announced it plans to seek a prestigious trauma care designation sometime before fall 2017.

The hospital, which saw its first trauma patient at 8:10 a.m. on April 4, now has all the capabilities and programmatic elements of a Level II trauma program to treat critical and severely injured patients, said Todd Steward, CEO of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.

Level II is the highest trauma level a hospital can achieve without being affiliated with an academic research facility or residency program, Steward explained. In Travis County, he said, there are two Level I trauma centers—University Medical Center Brackenridge and Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.

St. David's South Austin Medical Center Shock Trauma Unit St. David's South Austin Medical Center opened its new Shock Trauma Unit on April 4.[/caption]

“We identified a strong need for a Level II trauma center approximately 18 months ago,” Steward said, noting in 2015 St. David’s received nearly 17,000 EMS transports, compared with 14,000 ambulance transports in 2014.

“That number just continues to climb, I think, primarily due to South [Austin Medical Center]’s proximity to three major thoroughfares—[I-]35, [Hwy.] 71 and MoPac,” Steward said. “There are more and more homes being built in our service area, so … our location is really a key advantage for our community.”

The state requires a year-long designation process for the Level II trauma care program, and St. David’s has initiated the process for verification by the American College of Surgeons, or ACS, and designation by the state of Texas. The ACS will evaluate St. David's progress during the next 18 months to determine if it meets requirements for designation as a verified ACS Level II Trauma Center.

New trauma unit

The endeavor has been in the works since last year, when St. David’s repurposed a floor at the existing medical center by closing beds to renovate for the new Shock Trauma Unit, Steward said. The new higher-level ICU for patients with traumatic injuries has 10 beds and a trauma operating room. The hospital hired additional OR staff and brought in 10 additional beds for a separate “step-down” unit patients can transition to after they are discharged from the ICU.

St. David’s also hired new staff, including critical care nurses, anesthesiology support, respiratory support, blood bank and lab support, and imaging support for CT, MRI and ultrasounds, according to a news release. Dr. Ernest Gonzalez has been named the trauma medical director of the new program, and Lydia Blankenship, R.N., B.S.N., is serving as the director, according to the release.

“The faster a patient receives care, the better the outcome,” Gonzalez said.

Serving about 110,000 patients per year, the hospital’s emergency department is the largest volume department in Central Texas, according to St. David’s. St. David's also operates a Level II Trauma Center in Round Rock, Steward said.