Trinitas seeking trauma center designation, citing terrorist activity

Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth. (File photo)

Following a recent uptick in terrorist activity in the country, one hospital is questioning New Jersey’s readiness to handle an incident in one specific county: Union.

Trinitas Regional Medical Center is rallying to be formally designated a Level II trauma center, which would put it in the receiving line for patients if an attack like the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre or Las Vegas shooting took place in the area.

It’s not a far-fetched scenario, according to CEO Gary Horan.

Trinitas is uniquely located off Exit 13A on the New Jersey Turnpike, right near a corridor Homeland Security has dubbed “the most dangerous two miles in America” — between Newark Liberty International Airport and Port Elizabeth.

The only Level I trauma center nearby is University Hospital in Newark. Level I centers are the primary receivers of patients after a mass casualty incident, while Level II centers are available to take on additional injured.

“The climate has changed over the years,” Horan said. “We are seeing more and more incidents of terrorism, even in the city of Elizabeth.”

An explosion was set off at a New Jersey Transit train station in Elizabeth last year.

In its filing for the designation, the hospital said, “Trinitas qualifies for a Level II trauma center designation under both American College of Surgeons (ACS) criteria and the volume level requirements of 350 cases established in New Jersey by the state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), clearly demonstrating a pressing community need.

“DHSS regulations and ACS standards do not restrict the number of trauma centers on a per-population basis … it has been suggested that total of 10 is the maximum recommended by the ACS. The ACS makes no such recommendation; it does not address the number of centers in any state or locale.”

And the number of centers is a key to response to crisis situations.

“Let’s look at Boston,” Horan said. “They have eight Level I trauma centers in the city of Boston. I think that helped in the work those hospitals did in being prepared for receiving as many patients as they did (during the Boston Marathon bombing).”

Las Vegas, on the other hand, wasn’t as well prepared.

“Las Vegas has one trauma center, and one of the quotes from the trauma surgeon at that trauma center was that the area hospitals did a wonderful job, but they need to be better prepared for a reoccurrence of (the shooting).”

The state’s Department of Health has, as a result of Trinitas’ request, put out a call for a Level II designation in Union County.

But the state DOH has not said there is a need.

“The department is initiating this call because an acute care hospital has presented documentation indicating that there may be a potential need for a Level II trauma center in Union County,” according to a public notice from the DOH in August.

The department added, “Issuance of this call does not constitute a finding of need by the department for the designation of an additional Level II trauma center in the affected area.”

But it’s the first such call for any new trauma designation in 20 years, according to Trinitas.

In its filing, Trinitas highlights that Elizabeth is one of four cities in the state — the others being Newark, Jersey City and Paterson — with more than 100,000 residents. A number, the hospital said, is growing.

Horan said the hospital asked for an independent assessment of cases over the last six years, by a Level I trauma center in New York City, to determine if the hospital qualifies for Level II designation.

“We are already doing it; we are already doing the trauma (level) II activity,” Horan said.

It’s just time to receive the designation, he said.