MultiCare Health System

Back To Blog

  • Tacoma Trauma Center celebrates 10 years of saving lives

    The Tacoma Trauma Center, a unique partnership between St. Joseph Medical Center, MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital and Madigan Army Medical Center that ensures expert trauma care is available 24 hours a day in Pierce County and the South Puget Sound region, celebrated its 10th anniversary on June 21.

    The trauma centers at Tacoma General and St. Joseph have served more than 13,746 individuals suffering traumatic and often life-threatening injuries from automobile accidents, gunshots, assaults, falls and other mishaps.

    “Traumatic injuries are equal-opportunity destroyers that do not care if you are rich or poor, young or old, educated or uneducated,” said Robert Jacoby, MD, Medical Director for the trauma centers at St. Joseph and Tacoma General. “Once an accident happens, the clock starts ticking. When a person suffers a gunshot, stab wounds or traumatic injuries from a traffic accident, the first minutes of care are critical and can make a difference between recovery, permanent disability or death.”

    The Tacoma Trauma Trust began in 2000 following a five-year period when St. Joseph and Tacoma General did not provide trauma services. The creation of the Trust brought those advanced services back to the private hospitals in Pierce County. The Trust allows Tacoma General and St. Joseph to share trauma services with an every-other-day rotation. The two hospitals handle the vast majority of civilian patients who suffer traumatic injuries. Madigan Army Medical Center is on trauma duty around the clock to serve military personnel and, as needed, to accept and medically stabilize injured civilians before transferring to either St. Joseph or Tacoma General.

    From the beginning the Trauma Trust has had the support of the of the area’s Congressional delegation including Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Rep. Norm Dicks and Rep. Adam Smith. Dicks has recognized Madigan’s dual role in this partnership, providing essential trauma care to the greater Pierce County community and utilizing the acute care medical and surgical experiences to prepare Army doctors and staff for the more serious types of injuries often found in the battlefield environment. Rep. Dicks, a longtime member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and now its Chairman, helped to secure more than $11 million in recent years in federal assistance to support Madigan’s involvement and ensure that adequate trauma care is available in the area.

    The trauma centers at St. Joseph, Tacoma General and Madigan are designated as Level 2 programs by the Washington State Department of Health. The only other Level 2 trauma centers in the state are in Spokane and Vancouver. The Level 2 designation shared by Tacoma General and St. Joseph means each hospital has a trauma surgeon on site when the facility is on trauma duty, and that orthopedists, anesthesiologists, neurosurgeons and other medical specialists can respond within 20 minutes of being called.

    The state’s only Level 1 (the highest category) trauma facility is at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

    Until the Tacoma Trauma Center program was established a decade ago, seriously injured patients were automatically transported by helicopter or ambulance to Harborview, often far from home and family.

    “Our ability to provide trauma care, locally, means that we begin critical care sooner than would be possible if patients had to be transported to Seattle or elsewhere,” Dr. Jacoby said.

    Today, Tacoma’s trauma program provides complete care for nearly every penetrating and blunt traumatic injury. In 2009, only three percent of the patients were transferred to Harborview, down from 6 percent in 2005. Most often, those transferred suffered severe burns that required wound care by specialists available only at Harborview.

    As the number of patients transferred out of the trauma centers at St. Joseph and Tacoma General has declined, the number of patients transferred in from other hospitals as far away as Bremerton and Olympia has increased -- totaling 267 in 2009, up from 111 four years earlier.

    Additionally, St. Joseph and Tacoma General provide outpatient care and referrals to specialists for civilian trauma patients after they are released from the hospital. “These clinics are an integral part of our complete care and our focus on providing the right care, at the right time and in the right place,” said Dr. Jacoby.

    The trauma-care partnership between Tacoma General, St. Joseph and Madigan is unique in Washington State and most of the nation because it pairs civilian hospitals with a military facility. Madigan is also recognized as top military training facility for trauma medicine. Key funding sources for the Tacoma trauma system include the U.S. Department of Defense, Tacoma General (MultiCare Health System), St. Joseph Medical Center (Franciscan Health System), and the Washington State Department of Health.

    “The success of Tacoma’s trauma service reflects the commitment by competing and diverse organizations to work together for the benefit of the entire community,” said Victoria Silas, MD, chair of the Tacoma Trauma Trust Board of Directors that oversees the trauma collaborative. “Our local trauma services are essential to the region’s health care safety net.”

    Posted on Jun 23, 2010 in