Only fair that Trinitas gets Level II trauma status

Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth. (File photo)

Recent news detailed the overcrowding that is being experienced by Newark’s University Hospital and the need for $10 million from the state for expansion of that facility. In recent articles, people associated with University incorrectly stated Trinitas Regional Medical Center’s trauma volume and capabilities. Trinitas is seeking approval to become a Level II Trauma Center. Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark) and University’s acting CEO, Judith Persichilli, both maintained that granting Level II trauma status to Trinitas will siphon patients and thereby hurt University Hospital. I cannot let these comments go unanswered.

Joseph P. Cryan

Trinitas already treats more than the minimum number of 350 trauma cases required for it be designated a Trauma Center, and has done so for more than eight years. This was the unanimous finding of the State Planning Board. And, for many years, Trinitas has operated successfully in stabilizing critically ill and injured patients, and transferring them to University when appropriate for Level I care. The trauma system in New Jersey depends on this high degree of collaboration between Level I and Level II facilities, as well as community hospitals.

Now is not the time to begin building silos.

University Hospital states that Trinitas becoming a Level II Trauma Center will result in $20 million in lost revenue to University if it lost 250 patients to Trinitas. That would amount to $80,000 per patient. This is simply not the case. Even if University did lose cases, the financial losses would be a fraction of that amount. Indeed, the formalization of a Level I and Level II relationship between Trinitas and University could result in more patients coming to University, not less. The bottom line is the people of the greater Elizabeth community also deserve a trauma center.

After an accident, no patient wants to be driven past one hospital to wait in traffic to go to a further hospital. Every patient wants to be taken to the closest hospital possible to be cared for or, at a minimum, stabilized. Designating Trinitas a Level II formally recognizes its expertise and allows the doctors to do what they are trained to do — take care of trauma patients.

In an emergency, it does matter how close you are to the care you require. Did you know that Boston, with its population of 500,000, nearly rivals Union County in number of residents? But there’s a profound difference. Boston has seven Level I trauma centers and two Level II trauma centers — but Union County has zero trauma centers. We simply cannot keep the status quo of one trauma center in Newark serving two of the state’s largest urban areas. Everyone knows that getting from any place in Union County to Newark in a short amount of time is nearly impossible.

This thinking correctly prompted the State Health Planning Board to unanimously overturn the Department of Health’s initial rejection of Trinitas’ trauma application. I was there, I heard the discussion. There was no reason to vote otherwise. Approval was obvious, as the need was well-proven and capabilities carefully documented.

The bottom line is the people of the greater Elizabeth community also deserve a trauma center.

Homeland Security officials have labeled the section of the New Jersey Turnpike in Elizabeth and Newark as the most dangerous two miles in America. The current arrangement of having just one trauma center — located in Newark — is unacceptable to those of us living and working in Elizabeth and Union County.

You don’t need to search far to find evidence of Trinitas’ commitment to the well-being of my community. In just the last year, Trinitas invested $18.7 million (raised entirely by the Trinitas Health Foundation, with not a penny from the state) in an expansion of its Emergency Department that nearly doubled the number of treatment beds and added four Intensive Care Unit rooms (two of which are Trauma ICU rooms). The project also addressed the emotional aspect of emergency care, providing separate treatment areas with specialized expertise for children, seniors and behavioral patients. Trinitas sees nearly 70,000 emergencies each year, and it does it very well. It is anxious to be formally recognized for this level of care and become a true, Level II trauma center for the people who live, work and visit Union County.

Trinitas is not seeking to cause harm to University, and there is no credible evidence that designation of Trinitas as a Level II trauma center will have any material financial impact on University. Trinitas has a long history of working with University and will continue that practice.

The residents of the greater Elizabeth community are not second-class citizens. We are not a suburb of Newark, nor should special interests be chosen over patient care. Decisions on trauma care should be based on the needs of the community. The citizens of Elizabeth and the rest of Union County deserve the respect and the equal fairness afforded to New Jersey citizens everywhere. For the safety and peace of mind of my constituents, Trinitas’ application for Level II Trauma Center designation must be approved. To do otherwise would be a decision that will not withstand scrutiny, and will not best serve New Jersey’s patients.

Joseph P. Cryan (D-Union) is a state senator representing the 20th District.