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St. Mary Trauma Center celebrates 30 years of service to the community

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Big milestone: The St. Mary Trauma Center is celebrating 30 years of service to the local community. Thanks to coordinated care by a team of dedicated professionals, the center has successfully treated almost 1,900 patients this year. Photo: St. Mary Medical Center

At St. Mary Medical Center, one goal is common among physicians, nurses and staff — providing high quality care to patients. It’s a true team effort, especially when it comes to trauma patients, for whom a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Treating almost 1,900 patients annually, the St. Mary Trauma Center is one of the longest-operating in the state, currently celebrating 30 years of service to the community.

Trauma centers began to spring up in the late ’60s and early ’70s when a need was identified nationally. As a result, the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation was formed, beginning accreditation status in 1986, which included St. Mary the following year. The Langhorne-based center currently serves as the only Level II Trauma Center in Bucks County, which means it’s not required to have a residency program like a Level I. Still, the same high level of care is provided.

“It’s so much more than an emergency room,” said Meg Ashton, St. Mary’s director of trauma services for nearly 11 years. “It’s a coordinated effort of lots of people.”

Ashton explained how a trauma patient’s care begins before they even reach the hospital. EMS goes through extensive training to safely and effectively transport the patient from their place of injury. They’re part of the trauma team and, according to Ashton, so is the entire hospital.

Once inside St. Mary, the patient can go to any number of places, whether it’s the operating room or ICU where they’ll spend days or even weeks in recovery. Many also go on to rehabilitation afterward. Virtually anybody who works in the hospital has an impact on the patient, including nurses, physicians and even housekeeping, which makes sure the rooms are sanitary. The role of the Trauma Center is to oversee this comprehensive range of services provided to its patients from beginning to end.

“Trauma care is a system that totally coordinates the multiple aspects of treatment and follow-up,” Ashton said. “We remain directly involved in the care as the patient progresses through the OR, ICU, step-down unit or rehabilitation. Our multidisciplinary approach also includes support from respiratory, dietary, social services, spiritual care and home health care.”

In a national study published in 2010 in the Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care, it was found that even though trauma centers are expensive to operate, the benefits far outweigh the costs. More lives are saved, which is St. Mary’s main goal. To help achieve this, a board certified trauma surgeon is in-house 24/7 as well as a number of anesthetists and other specialists on call.

With these professionals on-hand at any given time, Ashton has seen the number of trauma patients treated and saved steadily rise each year. She’s also been able to witness firsthand the creation and growth of the St. Mary Trauma Center. Though she’s held her current position for 11 years, she’s been with the hospital a total of 43. She began working there straight after nursing school and hasn’t looked back.

Since the Trauma Center was implemented 30 years ago, Ashton has seen many improvements. The most notable for her is the separate, state-of-the-art trauma bays with attached cat scans. The patient no longer needs to be transported to a separate room, and thanks to technological advances, are in and out of the scan in 10 minutes. Radiologists can read the results immediately, allowing physicians to instantly take the appropriate action.

As the Trauma Center continues to advance, so does the rest of the hospital. When St. Mary’s OR and ICU were rebuilt and expanded, Ashton explained how everything was done with trauma patients in mind.

“What would make caring for that patient more efficient,” she said.

Because of this, all patients, not just trauma, can reap the benefits of faster cat scans and other improvements. It’s also an opportunity for nurses and health professionals to receive an ongoing education as protocols and technologies continue to evolve.

In its 30 years, St. Mary Trauma Center has also built a large focus around trauma prevention. In its Matter of Balance workshop, the elderly are educated on how to prevent against falls while Safe Kids covers correct car seat usage and bicycle safety. St. Mary is also joining Stop the Bleed, a nationwide initiative to educate people on how to stop excessive bleeding until help arrives.

“Hemorrhage can be a leading cause of death,” Ashton said.

As it continues to grow and evolve, St. Mary Trauma Center will remain on the cutting edge of advancements in the field. As part of Trinity Health System, all trauma centers under that umbrella work together to share resources and provide the highest quality care for patients.

“Competition doesn’t exist,” Ashton said. “We always learn from each other.”

For more information, visit stmaryhealthcare.org.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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