The level of trauma care offered in Montgomery County is improving as two hospitals are working to bring high-end medical services typically found in the Texas Medical Center directly to local residents.
Conroe Regional Medical Center and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital are each working to improve their trauma designations—which is determined by the American College of Surgeons.
Both hospitals hold Level III designations, which means between 10 to 12 trauma patients per month must be transported to hospitals in the Texas Medical Center in downtown Houston, according to the Montgomery County Hospital District. Once the local hospitals attain Level II designation, they will be certified to offer the same level of trauma care in Montgomery County as Ben Taub and Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center hospitals in Houston.
“I have often joked that there are two bad places to get shot: one is in the chest and the other is a long ways from the Texas Medical Center,” said Dr. David Persee, city of Houston emergency medical services physician director. “If you get shot in the chest and you are in Hermann Park [in Houston] a few hundred yards from Ben Taub and Memorial Hermann [hospitals], you have a good chance of doing well. If you have the exact same injury and you are 25 miles from the Texas Medical Center, your chances are not great. Distance really makes a difference.”
Ben Taub, Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston are the only three Level I trauma centers in the Greater Houston area. However, Persee said there should be a Level I trauma center for every million residents as a rule of thumb and added the three facilities are not strategically positioned to serve the region’s nearly 6 million residents.
“If we were to be able to design this community and put the types of hospitals where we needed them, we of course wouldn’t put our three Level I trauma centers where we have them,” Persee said. “One in the Texas Medical Center is fine. But having the second one right next to it and having the third one at the edge of the landmass, that is just not where I would put trauma centers 2 and 3.”
Conroe Regional Medical Center
In an effort to bring high-end trauma care to local residents, Conroe Regional Medical Center hopes to attain a Level II trauma designation by mid-2016, Chief Operating Officer Tripp Montalbo said. The designation means the hospital offers the same level of clinical service as a Level I trauma center without the research and education components required for a Level I designation.
Because both hospitals are in pursuit of Level II designation, the Montgomery County Hospital District EMS service has cut down the time it takes for an ambulance to service such calls by nearly two-thirds, MCHD quality supervisor Kevin Crocker said.
Additionally, Montalbo said the trauma center also sees trauma patients from as far away as Leon, Grimes, Polk and Liberty counties.
“It was evident from the trauma acuity that we were seeing and having to go downtown from here that there was an absolute need for a higher level of trauma service in the area,” Montalbo said. “If you look at it on a map and see where the trauma centers are, there is nothing on the north side [of the Greater Houston area].”
The hospital added surgical and support staff to offer 24/7 trauma service in orthopedics, ophthalmology, facial trauma, plastics and anesthesia, he said. The hospital also bolstered its existing neurosurgery center and interventional radiology care.
In 2013 the hospital completed an expansion of its emergency department that was valued at about $6 million, Montalbo said. The department sees about 50,000 patients per year, nearly 10,000 of which are trauma patients, according to the hospital.
Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital has also taken strides to attain Level II trauma center designation in the last few years. The hospital has operated as a Level III trauma center for about seven years and is working to attain Level II designation by late 2016, CEO Josh Urban said.
The hospital has recruited additional surgeons and support staff while incorporating additional medical equipment in hopes of attaining its Level II designation, Urban said. The hospital’s emergency department is undergoing a $17.4 million expansion. The Memorial Hermann Life Flight service will also have an expanded presence at The Woodlands hospital because of construction of a second helicopter pad on the roof of the hospital’s east tower.
“We have been doing a lot of growth and expansion [projects] here in the past seven years,” Urban said. “This trauma elevation has been in our plan the entire time. We are currently renovating and expanding our emergency room to make it bigger and more efficient. So by 2017 we will have a completely renovated and expanded emergency center to include three major trauma bays inside of it.”
Urban said attaining a Level II designation means the hospital can treat trauma patients locally, which could help alleviate the strain patient hospitalization in downtown Houston can have on a Montgomery County patient’s family.
“We are located 40 miles north of the Texas Medical Center, and the traffic in Houston stinks,” Urban said. “It is important to have a hospital that delivers the care and services that fit the needs of the community and prevents people from having to travel downtown.”