Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center will soon be working as a certified trauma center, the first to ever operate in San Luis Obispo County.
Hospital spokesperson Ron Yukelson said the designation is the conclusion of more than four years of preparation from the medical center. On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved a contract that finalized the process, officially recognizing Sierra Vista as a Level III trauma center.
Cal Poly Health Center administrative coordinator Sara Thomson said Cal Poly Health Center has no official relationship with Sierra Vista, so cases there will be unaffected by the new trauma-center recognition.
“If a student was experiencing trauma, they’d probably call 911 before they come here,” Thomson said. “So we don’t really get much of it.”
Though the hospital hired multiple trauma specialists to prepare for the certification, Yukelson said the new trauma status will have a bigger impact on emergency response in the field than it will at the hospital itself.
“Trauma is a surgical disease,” he said. “In today’s world, the law says an ambulance has to transport you to the nearest hospital.”
Since there is currently no trauma center in San Luis Obispo County, protocol dictates patients are transferred to the closest medical facility, regardless of what their injury is. The new trauma level at Sierra Vista will allow responders to take patients to Sierra Vista where trauma specialists will be working.
This change will take effect March 1, Yukelson said. Until then, first responders around the county will be trained on new procedures that come with having a trauma center in the area.
“Really the impact is going to be on the first responders and the way they assess situations,” Yukelson said.
Emergency medical services director for San Luis Obispo County Steve Lieberman said field responders will consult with their base hospitals to determine if transport to Sierra Vista is necessary. If so, the medics will bring individuals there even if it is not the closest hospital.
“There’s an algorithm,” Leiberman said. “That is, where the fire department or ambulance says ‘Based on what I see, I’m going to compare that to the trauma protocol.’ And if they see it’s trauma, they’re going to call Sierra Vista.”
Included in the changes to the hospital will be a helistop located at Sierra Vista. Different from a helipad, it will not be a full refueling station for helicopters; it will, however, allow for emergency transports to the center. It will also have the ability to transport victims in the case of a natural disaster.
Though local trauma cases are evenly spread throughout the different areas in the county, a 2010 report said nearly all trauma transports from hospital to hospital within the county go to Sierra Vista. Yukelson said the new designation will formally recognize Sierra Vista for the work it has already been doing on trauma patients.
“It’s been a four-and-a-half year process,” he said. “So we’re very proud to have gotten to this point. But it’s really great being distinguished for something we’ve already been doing.”
The new trauma center will try to ensure all patients get to the most appropriate hospital for their injury in the shortest amount of time, Yukelson said. He said under the current system, several hours could pass while a patient is transported from hospital to hospital. Those hours, he said, could mean the difference between life and death.
“The most important thing is it’s just the right thing to do for the community,” Yukelson said.