WellStar Kennestone Hospital announced Monday that it has received state designation as a Level 2 trauma center. The state approval makes the hospital the...

WellStar Kennestone Hospital announced Monday that it has received state designation as a Level 2 trauma center. The state approval makes the hospital the only trauma facility in the heavily populated northwest Atlanta suburbs.

“This is an important day for not only WellStar but, more importantly, the residents of northwest Georgia as they now have access to high-quality trauma care closer to home,” said Candice Saunders, executive vice president and WellStar Kennestone Hospital administrator.

As a Level 2 center, Saunders noted, the hospital will be required to have 24/7 access to certain medical specialists, such as a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon.

The news marks a return for the Marietta hospital to the state’s trauma network, which it dropped out of in 2001 due to rising costs of uncompensated care.

The designation makes WellStar Kennestone the second metro Atlanta hospital to receive a new trauma status in the past five months. In June, Atlanta Medical Center received an upgraded designation, going from a Level 2 trauma center to a Level 1, the kind that handles the most serious cases.

The upgrades have occurred despite continued funding problems for the state’s trauma system. A year ago, Georgia voters rejected a referendum that would have set a $10 annual fee on vehicle license tags to help pay for trauma care.

Trauma experts have estimated that on average, hundreds of lives per year are lost in the state because of the lack of accessible trauma care. A survey of the hospitals within the trauma network in 2007 showed that the combined operating loss on trauma services exceeded $70 million.

Trauma, in medical terms, is any life-threatening injury or shock to the body. It’s the leading cause of death for Georgians 44 or younger. Treatment at a trauma center significantly increases injured patients’ chances of survival.

Trauma center designations are based on their trauma care capabilities — from the highest, Level 1, to the most basic, Level 4. Hospitals designated Level 1 must provide, on a constantly available basis,  a level of personnel, equipment and coverage by a full complement of trauma specialties, including orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, internal medicine, vascular surgery and others.

Additionally, Level 1 trauma centers must have a surgical residency program, and must treat a certain volume of severely injured patients each year.

A Level 2 trauma center, such as WellStar Kennestone, has the same standard of care as a Level 1 but does not provide training programs for surgery residents or fellows.

With the addition of WellStar Kennestone to the Georgia Trauma Care Network, there are now 19 designated trauma centers in the state, including two pediatric facilities, WellStar said.

Here’s a GHN story by Mike King that explains some of the funding problems for the trauma system.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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