Trauma program marks 20 years

Trauma program marks 20 years

Caring for trauma patients in our community and region changed for the better in 1995 with the establishment of Huntsville Hospital’s Trauma Program. The decision by the hospital’s Board to create a formal trauma program ushered in a new day for residents of northern Alabama and southern Tennessee.

Rony Najjar, MD, a board-certified trauma surgeon and the chief of the Trauma Program that he helped establish 20 years ago, recalled the early days of the program. “We had to build the infrastructure for a complex trauma program from the staffing to the education and skill development. We had to become capable and comfortable dealing with trauma patients. And then of course, we needed the resources,” said Dr. Najjar.

In Dr. Najjar’s view, “We are continually learning how to do trauma better by integrating new aspects of care and adopting new technology and protocols.” The key to the success of the program is the 24/7 services from trauma surgeons, neuro-trauma surgeons, orthopedic trauma surgeons, emergency physicians and a host of other specialty physicians, nurses and technicians.

“Trauma touches every part of Huntsville Hospital,” said Dr. Najjar, one of five trauma surgeons at Huntsville Hospital. “From the ER trauma rooms to the operating room to the Surgical Trauma ICU to the surgery floors, radiology, and the blood bank...so many hospital departments contribute. The housekeeper that cleans the rooms is an important member of our trauma team.” As is the trauma surgeon serving as the “quarterback/coordinator” of the team’s efforts.

Joel Pickett, MD, a board-certified neurosurgeon, is one of four surgeons with Spine & Neuro Center. They provide neuro trauma on-call services at Huntsville Hospital. He was in practice in Huntsville prior to the formal establishment of the trauma system and says, “It’s much better now. Certainly we have more resources today, but the system and the protocols we have now are much improved.”

According to Dr. Pickett, the leading cause of death in multiple trauma patients is head injuries. “We see a lot of blunt trauma patients, closed head injuries and spinal injuries which can lead to paralysis,” he said.

Ginger Bryant, MD, is one of five orthopedic trauma surgeons who serve the program at Huntsville Hospital. A 10-year member of the team, Dr. Bryant believes strongly in the program.

“We have more fellowship trained ortho-trauma surgeons than Birmingham and Mobile combined. We treat all orthopedic injuries here,” Dr. Bryant said. “When Vanderbilt and UAB are full, they send patients to us. In fact, our program is so unique that the orthopedic surgery residents who are in training at university medical centers continually want to come see how we do it in Huntsville.”

Sherrie Squyres, MD, is one of the highly-trained, board-certified Emergency Room physicians at Huntsville Hospital. “We see patients first and determine the severity of the injury. If warranted, we initiate a Trauma Alert, which brings the Trauma Surgeon and the rest of the team.”

Many times, according to Dr. Squyres, the Trauma Alert is called when the patient is in transport. “When a Level 1 patient is in route, the team is notified and in place when the patient hits the door,” she said.

It takes a team Dr. Squyres credits Huntsville Hospital for taking the initiative to improve care for trauma patients by hiring a team of trauma surgeons. “It was a costly endeavor, but the community needed it. Today we have state-of-the-art trauma care for patients presenting to Huntsville Hospital with life-threatening injuries. The program now serves as a regional referral center for North Alabama because we taught our surrounding providers that they could send their trauma patients to us without delay. It’s saving lives. I am amazed at how it has grown. You will not get better care anywhere,” she said.

All of the physicians are quick to emphasize the uniqueness of Huntsville’s Level 1 Trauma Program in a non-academic medical center. There are two other Level 1 trauma centers in Alabama at UAB and at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. Both are also tax supported. Huntsville Hospital is not.

“We don’t have surgical residents in our program; we have board-certified surgeons,” said Dr. Najjar. To which Dr. Pickett added, “No one else does what we do in North Alabama or southern Tennessee. No other surgeons and no other hospital.”

That level of commitment is not lost on David Spillers, Huntsville Hospital Health System’s CEO. “It’s very difficult to run a Level 1 program without academic center surgical residents but we are doing so for an entire region. We are fortunate to have unbelievably skilled surgeons in our program and an outstanding nursing team and clinical staff who support our program 24/7. When the Hospital Board established the program 20 years ago, it set the foundation for a service that has literally saved thousands of lives in the region. Without this program, patients would have to travel 100 miles to find this level of care.”