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Forbes Regional gains Level II trauma center approval

| Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, 10:51 a.m.

Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville has been designated a Level II trauma center, which allows the hospital to treat more complex medical emergencies. and could give it a boost as it competes with UPMC East.

The trauma center designation should create a “halo effect” for Forbes by raising the public perception of the quality of the hospital, said Dr. Christoph Kaufmann, trauma medical director at Forbes. That could lead to patients choosing it over UPMC East.

“Trauma is the leading cause of death in the U.S. from ages 1 through 44,” Kaufmann said. “Having advanced treatment capabilities for traumatic injury will make a tremendous difference to this community for those who live here.”

The hospital, which is owned by Highmark's Allegheny Health Network, has been losing patients in the suburbs east of Pittsburgh to UPMC East since that hospital opened last year.

The designation of Level II trauma center takes effect Oct. 1. Trauma centers have dedicated resources within the emergency room, such as an operating room and specially trained doctors, including trauma surgeons on call 24 hours a day, to treat severely injured patients, according to the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation, which accredited Forbes.

“It does, I think in that regard, make people see that we are a full-service hospital,” Kaufmann said.

Level I centers require trauma research, a surgical residency program, and an annual volume of 600 trauma patients a year, according to the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation. A level II trauma center meets the same level of care but does not require the research and residency components, and its volume requirement is 350 trauma patients a year.

UPMC Mercy in Uptown and UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland are Level I trauma centers, as is Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side. UPMC's Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville is the only pediatric trauma center in the region.

The key to saving the lives of patients with serious injury is getting them to a trauma center in under an hour, Kaufmann said. Patients east of Pittsburgh must be transported to the city for advanced trauma services — which can waste valuable time.

Forbes also will be one of two trauma centers in the region with the capability to provide specialized care to pregnant women with severe injuries, he said. The only other one is UPMC Mercy in Uptown. Patients in need of specialized burn care will continue to be transferred to burn centers at UPMC Mercy or West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, he said.

UPMC East's emergency department has been busier than expected since opening in July 2012, spokeswoman Susan Manko said.

“We don't anticipate anything will change for UPMC East” after Forbes' trauma center designation takes effect, she said.

“With our full range of emergency services, we clearly are fulfilling a need for this community, and we will continue to provide these services at the right place, at the right time,” she said.

Highmark officials first announced plans to seek the trauma center designation in January 2012. Highmark, the state's largest health insurer, invested more than $2.5 million in capital equipment and facility renovations at the hospital as part of the effort.

The insurer in April acquired Forbes and the four other West Penn Allegheny Health System hospitals, which are the core of the seven-hospital Allegheny Health Network that is competing against UPMC across Western Pennsylvania.

West Penn Allegheny officials said in May that competition from UPMC East was partly responsible for a loss of patients.

Patient volume dropped 3.4 percent in the nine months ended March 31, officials said. Contributing to the loss was “the opening of a competitor's facility affecting patient volumes at Forbes Regional Hospital.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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