By Michael Haederle

Crisis Capability

UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center Seeks Level III Trauma Center Certification

The University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC) has notified local emergency medical services providers that it is ready to accept some trauma patients in its emergency department.

It’s a major step in a lengthy process that in the next year or two could lead the New Mexico Department of Health to certify the SRMC as a Level III trauma center.

The SRMC medical and nursing staff has spent the better part of the past year assembling the resources needed to offer trauma care and meeting the administrative requirements for achieving certification, says Patricia E. Souchon, MD, an assistant professor in the UNM Department of Surgery who serves as the hospital’s trauma medical director.

“At this point, it’s very exciting, because we’re seeing all the work we’ve done being put into practice,” she says. “We’re increasing our level of readiness and people are getting comfortable treating sicker patients.” 

The certification process has entailed hiring the surgeons and anesthesiologists needed to be available to treat trauma patients, as well guaranteeing operating room capacity. “It required a lot of logistics to get to this level of readiness,” Souchon says. 

The plan is for SRMC to handle lower-level trauma patients whose injuries could be treated by a general surgeon or an orthopedic surgeon. Patients with traumatic brain injury and other acute needs would be transported to UNM Hospital’s Level I trauma center, she says.

UNMH has the only Level I trauma center in New Mexico and the surrounding region. The designation signifies that the hospital is capable of handling every aspect of injury and has 24-hour in-house coverage by general surgeons, with experts from a host of subspecialties on call to provide care.

A Level III trauma center can provide resuscitation, surgery, intensive care and stabilization of injured patients and emergency operations. There are currently no Level II or III trauma centers in New Mexico.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to significantly offload the UNM system by being able to see the lower-level and a few of the higher-level traumas at SRMC,” Souchon says.

SRMC, which opened in Rio Rancho’s City Center in 2012, currently hosts elective orthopedic surgeries, and UNM’s new Orthopedic Center of Excellence will open next door in 2021.

The SRMC trauma team needs to demonstrate its competence in caring for patients before it can be certified, Souchon says.

“The state has asked us to act like  a trauma center for 12 months before they can come survey us,” she says, adding that if all goes well, the hospital could receive Level III certification 12 to 18 months from now.

“We’re in very exciting times,” Souchon says. “Everybody has expressed a lot of enthusiasm for this program. We’ve done a lot of meetings to make sure everybody feels comfortable taking care of these patients.”

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