Sentara Norfolk General Hospital marked 30 years as a Level I trauma center on Sept. 14, 2015.

Level 1 trauma center marks 30 years

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital marked 30 years as a Level I trauma center on Sept. 14, 2015. The hospital is one of five Level I centers in Virginia, two of which are connected with state university hospitals. Sentara partners with surgeons from Eastern Virginia Medical School to provide much of the specialized surgery skills required to maintain a Level I trauma center. Other surgeons serve the program through a call system that maintains readiness around the clock, 365 days per year.

Recent patients included:

  • A man shot four times who received a massive blood infusion in the trauma bay, followed by emergency surgery and two days in an ICU. 
  • A man who fell off a roof while working on a house.
  • A jail inmate with a brain injury suffered during a fight.
  • A woman who hit her head in a six-car accident on an interstate.
  • A teenager, shot in the chest and declared dead ten minutes after arrival by ambulance.

With the help of the hospital-based Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance and EMS partners in surrounding communities, Sentara Norfolk General Hospital’s trauma program receives patients within a 125-mile radius, from Virginia’s Northern Neck to Ocracoke Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

“Level I trauma is a regional asset we offer as part of our not-for-profit mission,” said Kurt Hofelich, president of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. “Sentara always puts patient care first and we want to be here for those who need us at the most critical moment in their lives.”

The Level I program is a significant investment in patient care. For calendar year 2014, Sentara Norfolk General Hospital reports a financial deficit for the Level I trauma program of $3.2 million. This figure includes a $1.6 million operating deficit for the Nightingale program, which flies about 50 percent trauma patients and 50 percent transfers of critically ill patients from smaller community hospitals to Sentara Norfolk General for specialized care.

These financial losses are due in part to the high cost of trauma readiness and a significant amount of uncompensated care for patients with little or no health insurance.

“Trauma can happen to anyone from any walk of life,” said Jay Collins, M.D., the hospital’s medical director for trauma and chief of trauma and critical care at Eastern Virginia Medical School. “People crash cars, trip and fall, fall off roofs and ladders, suffer burns and get injured at work, not to mention shooting and stabbing each other,” Collins said. “We’re here around the clock with surgeons specially trained in trauma and a multidisciplinary team providing a continuum of care from the ER door through surgery and rehabilitation.”

Surviving a traumatic injury is often just the beginning of a long road to recovery. Trauma, burn and brain injury patients may require an extended hospital stay, multiple surgeries, a nursing home stay and physical, occupational and respiratory therapy to recover mobility and re-master activities of daily living. Physical injuries may hinder a person’s future functioning and brain injuries can cause permanent cognitive or speech impairments. Thus, safety awareness and injury prevention efforts are also part of the Level I program.

Facts and Figures: 30 years of Level I Trauma at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

  • Total patients: 61,552 (… and counting)
  • Pediatric patients: 5,798
  • Gunshots: 5,715
  • Motor Vehicles: 21,868
  • Burns: 3,589
  • Falls: 6,621
  • Shark Bites: 6

What makes a Level I Trauma Center?

The American Trauma Society defines a Level I Trauma Center this way:  Level I Trauma Center is a comprehensive regional resource that is a tertiary care facility central to the trauma system. A Level I Trauma Center is capable of providing total care for every aspect of injury – from prevention through rehabilitation. Elements of Level I Trauma Centers Include:

  • 24-hour in-house coverage by general surgeons and prompt availability of care in specialties such as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology, internal medicine, plastic surgery, oral and maxillofacial, pediatric and critical care.
  • Referral resource for communities in nearby regions.
  • Provides leadership in prevention, public education to surrounding communities.
  • Provides continuing education for trauma team members.
  • Incorporates a comprehensive quality assessment program.
  • Operates an organized teaching and research effort to help direct new innovations in trauma care.
  • Program for substance abuse screening and patient intervention.
  • Meets minimum requirement for annual volume of severely injured patients.