KENNEWICK -- Kennewick General Hospital will become the first hospital in the Tri-Cities and the sixth in the state to be designated a Level III trauma center for pediatric patients starting Jan. 1.
"The actual designation is basically telling us ... that we meet or exceed all the standards and are capable of taking care of pediatric trauma in our community," said Barbara Edwards, KGH's trauma coordinator.
The designation comes from the state Department of Health, which oversees a system of trauma centers throughout the state.
Hospitals can be designated Level I -- the highest level -- down to Level V, said Mike Lopez, EMS & Trauma Section supervisor for the department's Office of Community Health Systems.
The levels acknowledge different hospitals' capabilities to deal with different levels of trauma by having specialists on staff and meeting a lengthy list of criteria.
Only one hospital in the state -- Harborview Medical Center in Seattle -- is designated a Level I trauma center.
Lopez said the idea behind the system is to ensure patients get to the right facility in the right amount of time.
"A trauma patient will go to the closest appropriate level of trauma service within a given period of time, usually 30 minutes," he said.
In the Tri-Cities, KGH and Kadlec Regional Medical Center are Level III trauma centers for adults. Only KGH will have the pediatric designation.
Pediatric patients are 15 years old and under.
Kadlec spokesman Jim Hall said with round-the-clock neurosurgery coverage now in place at the Richland hospital, he expects Kadlec might seek Level II designation in the future.
Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco has a Level IV designation.
Lopez said the way the system works, a patient in an emergency would go to the highest rated and closest trauma center for the medical need -- in the Tri-Cities, most likely one of the Level III centers. The patient would be evaluated and transported to a higher-level center if needed.
Hospitals have to meet specific criteria set forth in the Washington Administrative Code, and only a limited number of hospitals can get a designation at each level.
Regional councils decide the minimum and maximum number of trauma centers that are needed and can be supported by the case load in an area, Lopez said.
"It is a real delicate balance to ensure the facilities that exist are able to maintain and sustain the level of service without having to dilute the number of patients," he said.
He said another factor in limiting the number of trauma centers is that medical literature shows the more experienced a trauma center is, the better the results for patients.
And hospitals become more experienced the more traumas they handle.
"What's been proven time and again is that if we have a system structured that way, the outcomes for trauma patients are much more favorable," Lopez said.
Edwards said getting the pediatric Level III designation is an affirmation of the work KGH has done to train its staff to treat children experiencing medical trauma.
"We're very excited about being able to demonstrate to the community we are ready and able to take care of trauma patients," she said.
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org