Fulton County Hospital has become one of the first small hospitals in the state to be approved as a Level 4 Trauma Hospital.
Two years ago, the Arkansas Department of Health was authorized to develop a long discussed statewide trauma system.
The objective is to get people who suffer major injuries or illnesses to the nearest designated hospital, to be stabilized and evaluated and, if necessary, transferred as quickly as possible to a trauma center, which can provide higher level care.
Revenue from the federal tobacco settlement has been used to help hospitals work toward trauma certification.
"We have been upgrading hospital equipment and working to get Advanced Trauma Life Support training for our Emergency Room doctors and to obtain Trauma Certification for all of our E-R nurses." said Trauma Program Manager Tammy Friel. "All of our doctors have ATLS certification and all but one of our nurses are certified."
The hospital has obtained $67,000 over the past two years to work towards that goal.
At the same time, Fulton County Emergency Medical Service, led by Tim Hodges, has worked to obtain additional training and equipment to aid in the trauma designation effort. EMS has received $20,800 in state funding assistance over the past two years.
When the hospital was improved and expanded, it moved and upgraded its helicopter pad, to insure that life support flights can get in and out of the facility as quickly and safely as possible.
After meeting the education goals and refining its system to evaluate patients and work with others in the trauma system, the hospital applied for Level Four designation in March.
On April 21, a representative of St John's Hospital in Springfield and a state health department evaluator conducted a survey at the hospital.
At a meeting on May 17, the state Trauma Advisory Council considered pending applications from smaller hospitals. It approved Level 4 designations for eight hospitals, including Fulton County Hospital.
The local hospital is the first of the six hospitals in the North Central Arkansas region to receive designation as a Level 4 trauma hospital.
"The Fulton County Hospital is the only hospital in the state to receive its trauma designation without one deficiency (being noted during a survey)," said Board Chairman Al Roork. "This says a lot about our people. It is a long and difficult process, with a lot of red tape, to become certified."
In particular, Roork praised Friel for coordinating the effort to upgrade E-R trauma care.
"She stayed vigilant and got the job done," said Roork.
Under the trauma system, smaller rural hospitals seek Level 3 and 4 designations, indicating they have training and procedures in place to make the initial response to severe injury and illness.
Their job is to assess the patient and provide a high level of care, often by consulting specialists in the trauma network, and get a patient on the way to a higher level of care within two hours.
In our area, St. John's, UAMS in Little Rock and Le Bonheur and the MED in Memphis are designated Level One Trauma Hospitals. Pine Bluff Hospital is a Level Two provider.
Trauma treatment begins when Fulton County's Emergency Medical Service arrives on the scene. EMS units will soon be equipped with special AWIN (Arkansas Wireless Information Network) telephones, which will allow them to speak to doctors at the state trauma call center, as well as local physicians.
At the hospital, as evaluations are done, patient information is put into a Patient Registry and the trauma system "Dashboard," a computer database which went online January 1, is consulted. The dashboard keeps up to date information about trauma hospitals, and determines which hospital a patient will be transferred to, to receive the most appropriate care.
"Under the trauma system, all of the hospitals work together in caring for patients, obtaining education and continually trying to improve care," said Friel.
The North Central Trauma Regional Advisory Council, better known as TRAC, meets monthly in Batesville to discuss care and issues in the north central region.
Fulton County has two approved trauma care instructors on staff, Monica Estes and Crissy Dunavant.
Dr. Jeff Summerhill is the hospital's Trauma Medical Director.
EMS Director Tim Hodges is the Trauma Registrar and John Sontag is the Trauma Educator.
Friel says obtaining trauma hospital designation was a team effort, which paid off on May 17.
"I was excited when were were notified," said Friel. "We have worked long and hard to improve patient care. The board, administration and staff are all focused and committed."
According to Roork, emergency room improvements and education will benefit all patients.
"Doctors have received additional training in trauma care, cardiac life support, and pediatric advanced life support," said Roork. "There is little question, there will be better care for patients. This will save lives."