BAYONET POINT — With the green light from the state at least for now, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point began treating its first trauma patients last weekend.
They didn't have to look far for business. Most of the cases were car accident victims on U.S. 19.
"If you've driven 19, you know," said Dr. Scott Norwood, the hospital's new trauma center medical director and an experienced trauma surgeon.
The hospital's opening of its $4.5 million trauma center seemed to happen quickly and quietly, a day after state officials gave it provisional approval Nov. 18. But it really was the culmination of 16 months of renovations, hiring and training.
Bayonet Point was among five HCA hospitals applying for trauma center status. It cited a need for patients in Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and north Pinellas counties to get help closer to home.
Level 2 trauma centers differ from Level 1 mainly in staffing requirements. A Level 1 facility must have all its specialists in house, while a Level 2 is allowed to have some nearby. Level 1 facilities typically treat spinal cord injuries. Tampa General is a regional burn center, so it will continue to treat burn traumas. Child trauma victims will continue to be sent to pediatric centers.
The application drew opposition from rival trauma centers Bayfront Medical Center, Tampa General Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital, who sued. They argued there isn't enough business for so many costly facilities that are staffed and equipped to deal with the most severe injuries. Beyond the revenue that is at stake, they argue that trauma surgeons and other staff must stay busy to maintain quality.
State health officials decided in favor of the new trauma centers, while a judge has sided with the established centers. The state has appealed the judge's ruling, and while the legal battle plays out, officials cleared Bayonet Point to open.
Earlier this year Bayonet Point hired Norwood, a 60-year-old North Carolina native with 25 years of trauma center experience who most recently worked at a Level 1 trauma center in east Texas.
Hospital officials also hired four more trauma surgeons to meet state requirements of five. The hospital had only three general surgeons, so the new hires were from elsewhere. Norwood also requires that surgeons on call remain at the hospital for the entire 24-hour shift, even though that's not always required in some areas.
"That way they can be ready for whatever comes in," he said.
Also hired were trauma nurses, many who already worked in the hospital. About 30 new jobs were created, Norwood said. The new hires as well as other staff were trained in a course developed by the hospital.
"It's a rigorous course," he said.
The operating rooms also were renovated to make them larger, and two resuscitation rooms were also redone.
Norwood said the first weekend wasn't too busy but he expects that to change as word gets out to the other counties that the nearest trauma center is now closer than it used to be.
"There's a real need for it up here," he said. "It's kind of isolated up here. There are a lot of rural roads up here."