BAYONET POINT — For 20 years, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point has been known primarily as a heart center. Now the hospital is vying to become the place to transport victims of the most serious car accidents, gunshot wounds and other traumas in a five-county region.
"It's a natural next step," said Steve Rector, chief executive officer of the 290-bed for-profit HCA hospital in northwest Pasco County.
With much emphasis on the "golden hour," that time immediately after an injury during which prompt treatment increases the odds of survival, Regional Medical Center officials say this would give residents in Pasco, North Pinellas, Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties more of a fighting chance.
Bayonet Point recently filed an application with state health officials to operate as a Level 2 trauma center, a status held by only three hospitals in the region: Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and Lakeland Regional Medical Center. Tampa General Hospital and Shands at the University of Florida are the closest Level 1 trauma centers, which have the most rigorous standards and typically are large teaching hospitals. All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg is the Tampa Bay area's only pediatric trauma center.
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 would treat burn traumas, Rector said. Child trauma victims would continue to be sent to pediatric centers.
Bayonet Point will get 18 months to comply with a long list of state requirements before officials license it as a trauma center.
Such requirements range from additional training of current employees to hiring enough trauma surgeons to have a total of five on staff.
The state also requires a surgical team to be standing by around the clock.
It also requires two medical bays dedicated to trauma, "so we'll be doing some renovations," Rector said. "It's a huge commitment. So many resources have to be deployed."
Rector said the hospital already has a couple of trauma surgeons and wants to work with local physicians as much as possible.
"There are a lot of specialists here and we're excited about it."
The hospital is now searching for a medical director for the trauma center.
Even though the state accepted the hospital's application, approval is not guaranteed.
In addition to the medical standards, the state looks at efficiency — meaning what percentage of the population would be served, said Duncan Hitchcock, chief of rescue for Pasco Fire Rescue.
He said the county agency supports Bayonet Point's application, which would put local patients closer to care and require fewer ground transports to other hospitals when bad weather prevents patients from being flown.
Such transports "require us to be out of the county for two hours," he said.
Hitchcock said counties farther north would benefit the most just because of proximity.
"Time is the biggest enemy to a trauma patient," he said.
Rector also noted that "to the north of us, there's not a trauma center until you get to Gainesville."
Bayonet Point cardiologist Dr. Rao Musunuru hailed the effort, recalling how he pushed the hospital to start its cardiac unit in 1989 after he got tired of having to send all his patients to Tampa.
He said a trauma center is not lucrative, at least not in the short-term. But it raises the bar for staffers and makes the hospital better overall.
He recalled how in 1981 he had to buy an echocardiogram machine because he couldn't persuade officials to buy one. Then a hospital administrator had a heart attack.
And 10 years later, he said, the hospital made the U.S. News and World Report list of the country's top 50 cardiac hospitals.
"Is it is doable? Can we possibly be ready? You bet your bottom dollar we're more than ready. We can do anything we want if we really want to do it," he said.
Lisa Buie can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4604.