NWI inches closer to having hospital trauma center
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org March 16, 2013 10:57PM
Methodist Northlake Hospital in Gary photographed February 23, 2007. | File Photo~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: April 18, 2013 6:43AM
There’s still a need for a trauma center in Northwest Indiana, and while legislation is in the works, The Methodist Hospitals hope to fill the void with a center of their own.
The “Gary bill” would provide a number of economic development opportunities for the area, but health care officials are hoping it passes for another reason: It would start a $250,000 feasibility study to consider placing a Level I trauma center and academic medical center in Lake County.
Republican state Sen. Ed Charbonneau of Valparaiso is the author of Senate Bill 585, which includes the medical center study.
“The discussion right now is, do we need (a trauma center), and if you look at a map, there’s a pretty big void up in Northwest Indiana,” Charbonneau said. “We most likely do. The other piece of it becomes the finances. What does it take to fund something like that?”
The bill is scheduled to have a hearing in the House Ways and Means committee Wednesday.
Current policy requires that patients be immediately transported to a trauma center that’s 45 minutes away.
“We have to send patients to either Chicago or South Bend for major trauma,” said Ian McFadden, CEO of The Methodist Hospitals, “and that’s not the best situation.”
In fact, state Rep. Charlie Brown fears the region could be losing roughly $1 billion in health care services when patients are sent to a trauma center in Illinois. That’s not including the wasted time traveling across the state border and back.
“If a local community only has two or three ambulances, they’ll have one out of commission for almost three hours,” Brown said.
A quick fix
Methodist is currently applying to the Indiana Department of Healthcare to become a Level III trauma center. McFadden said the hospital could receive the designation at both the Gary and Merrillville campuses by the end of the summer.
A trauma center can have five rankings, with a Level I having all specialists needed in a trauma case, ranging from orthopedic surgery, neurological surgery, trauma surgeons, and emergency room physicians all on staff at any hour.
Each step down has a reduced level of preparation. A Level II center has all the specialists, but not on site 24-7. They have to be within 15 minutes of the facility in case of an emergency.
At Level III, they may not have all the specialists, and the resources they have need to be ready within 30 minutes.
McFadden said Methodist has the facilities needed to become a Level III, but needs to complete needed paperwork to receive the classification.
Even with the designation, the area would still be wanting.
“The study still needs to take place,” he said. “The study will see what services are being transferred to the Level II and Level I centers, and is that hurting the ability to provide the best care for the region.”
It’s almost impossible to obtain the needed staffing requirements without having some support through a university. That’s why the study will also consider an academic learning center, which Patrick Bankston, the associate dean of Indiana University School of Medicine Northwest, believes will provide better medical opportunities across the region.
“For years, people have talked about an academic medical center,” Bankston said. “The question that everyone has is, what kind of doctors and services would you provide that would complement what’s already in the region?
“The stumbling block, of course, is money.”
Those special medical services, ranging from pediatric surgery to orthopedic surgery, would help keep patients from having to go to Chicago for specialized needs.
“It would complement the surrounding hospitals by having specialists that don’t already exist,” he said.
And as Indiana University Northwest begins to have students complete all four years of medical school in Gary, Bankston thinks the surrounding hospitals can create a medical teaching network, so new doctors won’t have to leave the region to complete their training.
Charbonneau said the bill does not specify where the potential academic and trauma center would be, but Brown and Bankston believe the ideal location would be near the IUN campus.
“There’s always talk for it to be close to this campus,” Bankston said. “But there’s nothing solid yet. Just that it would be nice to be close to the expressway. Somewhere near Broadway.”