November 27, 2022


Trauma in ER

Art Levy | 5/1/2008

Some specialists are choosing not to work in trauma centers.

During separate periods — a total of 10 days between mid-February and early March — St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Medical Center had to stop taking trauma patients because it didn’t have a neurosurgeon available. The hospital’s emergency room remained open for routine cases, such as heart attacks and most injuries, but trauma patients were diverted to other hospitals. Having certain specialists on call, including a neurosurgeon, is one of the requirements for state designation as a level II trauma center; Bayfront had to temporarily give up that status when no brain surgeon was available.

Dr. Larry Hobbs, president of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians, says hospitals across the state are having a tough time attracting specialists to work in emergency rooms and trauma centers. “It’s with every surgical specialist,” says Hobbs, emergency medical director at Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center in Fort Myers, “hand surgeons, plastic surgeons, pediatric surgeons. We’ve got a crisis here.”

Among the reasons given for the shortages are long hours, salary concerns and fewer physicians choosing to go into some specialties like neurosurgery. Hobbs claims the biggest reason is Florida’s medical liability climate, with many specialists no longer willing to risk treating trauma patients. “When you treat someone that you don’t know, you don’t know their medical history, and if a bad outcome develops, it sets up a possible lawsuit,” he says.

In response, physicians are hoping to pass some of the risk on to the state. A bill in the state Legislature, for example, would create a $200,000 cap on lawsuits against emergency room physicians, nurses and other emergency personnel. A victim could still win more, but legislators would have to pass a special appropriations bill first to authorize extra money.

Meanwhile, Bayfront, which handled 2,600 trauma cases in 2007, has found an additional neurosurgeon willing to be on call and is attempting to recruit others, says Nancy Waite, a hospital public affairs officer. “We’re not anticipating any issues into the foreseeable future.”

Tags: Southwest, Healthcare

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