Penrose seeks Level 1 trauma certification

It looks like the battle of the hospitals is on.

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services announced plans Friday to seek Level 1 trauma certification for its emergency department – less than a month after competitor Memorial Hospital made the same pledge.

Penrose’s main hospital on North Nevada Avenue would receive the designation, and is just a few miles from Memorial Central, where officials are also moving toward the highest trauma certification, announced in August.

Penrose-St. Francis Board of Trustees supports the plan, according to a press release announcing the decision. Penrose is currently a Level II center, and St. Francis Medical Center, at Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road, is a Level IV trauma center.

“If a Level 1 trauma center is needed in Southern Colorado, it absolutely should be at Penrose Hospital,” said Margaret Sabin, president and CEO of Penrose-St. Francis. “We have a 126-year legacy of providing world-class health care to our community, and are perfectly positioned to achieve Level 1 status as we’ve had a long-standing commitment to trauma as a Level II trauma center.”

Penrose-St. Francis is part of Centura Health, the first integrated health care network in the country to establish a comprehensive, fully-integrated trauma system in 2009 when it launched the Centura Health Trauma System. It’s comprised of 14 designated trauma centers, Flight for Life Colorado and the state’s largest EMS support center.

“We’ve been building toward this, quietly, for the past five years,” Sabin said. “We’ve been raising our platform and our portion of trauma cases has grown — that’s all available in the public data. People are choosing Penrose when they’re able to choose, and that’s a vote of confidence that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Sabin oversees the integrated trauma system that reaches throughout the state. And she says the partnership with hospitals in Southern Colorado means they rely on Penrose to handle the most complicated cases.

“We think the time is right to do this, particularly as the number of hospitals we support grows,” she said.

Sabin added that trauma market share has grown for Penrose-St. Francis during the past few years while other hospitals in the region have seen their market shares decline. Additionally, Penrose-St. Francis has been named among Healthgrades America’s 50 Best Hospitals for the past six consecutive years, the only hospital in Colorado with such a streak, placing it among the top 1 percent of hospitals in the country.

“Our affiliates in Southern Colorado depend upon our System of Care, and we have an obligation and responsibility to provide them the highest level of care available,” Sabin said.

The competition between the two hospitals has always been friendly, with Penrose accepting Memorial’s trauma patients during a period after a group of neurosurgeons in Colorado Springs ended their contract with Memorial, leaving the hospital without 24-hour trauma surgeons needed to maintain its Level 2 status.

But Gary Campbell, CEO of Centura, warned the Memorial task force in 2011 that putting the hospital in the hands of an outside agency, like University of Colorado Health, could lead to a “medical arms race” and rising prices. The hospital promised it would compete with the billions expected to be put into Memorial’s capital.

RTA-Penrose“We’re not going to stand idly by,” Campbell said at the time. “We’ll compete to see who has the biggest hospital. And that will drive up costs overall.”

The competition has always been mixed with good cooperation before, but Penrose has been able to chip away at Memorial’s market share during uncertainty about the future. The hospital has built on its relationship with Centura to create a network of care and partnerships with hospitals on the Western Slope, Eastern Plains and into Kansas.

Level 1 trauma certification is the highest level offered by the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment. Only four hospitals in the state currently have the certification, and all of them are in Denver. It’s both time-consuming and costly to pursue the certification, as it requires around-the-clock specialty care and high-tech equipment.

Sabin said it isn’t likely the state would approve two Level 1 hospitals in a city the size of Colorado Springs.

“They’ll make that decision,” she said. “I think they’ll make it based on the numbers. I would guess that they would not approve two.”

There isn’t much difference between Level 1 and Level 2 certification, experts say, but the differences are what make the change expensive. Both require around-the-clock access to specialty surgeons — neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, cardiothoracic surgeons. The higher certification requires high-tech monitoring and surgical equipment, the ability to perform minimally invasive surgery and to treat the very worst trauma cases at any time, day or night.

There also must be enough patients being flown from the region to Denver to make it necessary to obtain the higher certification. And there must be a dedicated operating room at a hospital for trauma cases to achieve Level 1.

While Memorial says it could take about 18 months to reach the certification, Sabin said Penrose is closer to approval.

“We’re waiting on a response to our letter of intent from the state,” she said. “We expect that today. Then we’ll have our application to them in less than a year. We have the only integrated clinical trauma system in the state, we already have a Level 1 system within Centura and we’ve built a peer-reviewed platform of care. Absolutely, we’re further along.”

5 Responses to Penrose seeks Level 1 trauma certification

  1. I, for one, would never choose Penrose over Memorial if I had the choice. I’ve received far superior care at Memorial in the 25+ years I’ve lived here. If Penrose is the choice of the people, as Sabin claims, why is Memorial Central’s ER the busiest in the state? Not a very intelligent comment on her part.

    It’s funny how we are just now hearing how Penrose has been seeking level 1 designation. Hopefully the state will take a look at the big picture and see that Memorial is now part of a system that IS able to ensure that Memorial will continue to upgrade and become as high tech as Penrose claims to be and decide they are the better choice for level 1 since they ARE the busiest ER in the state and obviously the People’s choice.

    Lisa
    September 6, 2013 at 11:08 am

  2. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean it’s quality. It means they border the poor side of town where the poor use the ED as their general doctor’s office and its clogged with common illnesses. Penrose has been a Top 50 hospital for five years by an independent agency making that distinction. If you’ve read the papers the last few years, penrose has stole tons of market share from memorial because they went down the tubes.

    When I’m have an emergency, last thing I think is I want to go to the busiest one! Yeah, not so much.

    Keep your head high penrose!

    John Metsley
    September 6, 2013 at 2:52 pm

  3. This may sound counterintuitive, but I believe both Lisa and John Metsley are correct. I’ve lived here for 41 years, and, like Lisa, have received far superior treatment at Memorial than Penrose. This is especially true regarding nursing care. I can’t see any difference between the physicians at either, but I’ve received fantastic care from the nurses at Memorial and absolutely horrible care from the nurses at Penrose. My children were born at Memorial because Memorial had a Pediatric ICU just in case it was needed (thankfully, it wasn’t) and Penrose, at least then, did not have one. The one time I needed to go to an ER, around 10 years ago, I went to Memorial and for some reason there was no wait. They treated me as soon as I walked in. But, as both Lisa and John say, now the waiting time at Memorial ER is pretty bad. I don’t know if the quality of nursing care is a factor in achieving Level 1 certification.

    Rob Millman
    September 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm

  4. The busier hospital should absolutely be the one designated as the trauma center. It only makes sense because they see more patients. And being busy means they have more staff, more docs and more experience. Look at the data and you’ll see that Memorial is the busiest ER in the state. And as for that Top 50 hospital award – if you do a little research you’ll see that hospitals have to pay for that designation. Yes, they pay for it – it isn’t based on quality. Penrose is just trying to fool the community.

    John
    September 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm

  5. “And she says the partnership with hospitals in Southern Colorado means they rely on Penrose to handle the most complicated cases.” Why don’t you ask what kind of complicated cases Penrose does? Did patients survive from those complicated cases.

    “Additionally, Penrose-St. Francis has been named among Healthgrades America’s 50 Best Hospitals for the past six consecutive years, the only hospital in Colorado with such a streak, placing it among the top 1 percent of hospitals in the country.” Money buys you titles and such.

    “….with Penrose accepting Memorial’s trauma patients during a period after a group of neurosurgeons in Colorado Springs ended their contract with Memorial, leaving the hospital without 24-hour trauma surgeons needed to maintain its Level 2 status.” Check your facts, ma’am. These neurosurgeons ended their contract at Memorial because they can’t hang with Memorial asking them to provide highest quality care, and yet they’re at Penrose!!!

    So NO, I do not agree that Penrose should be a Level 1 hospital. They don’t provide the same trauma care that Memorial does.

    Kristine Melnyck
    September 8, 2013 at 5:31 am