Medical residency program, more trauma centers could be in NWI’s future - November 22, 2014

Courtesy of NWI Times

November 22, 2014 6:30 pm   •   Giles Bruce (219) 853-2584, giles.bruce@nwi.com

Two months after a state-funded report seemed to quash the idea of an academic medical center in Northwest Indiana, advocates for the project are at least hopeful for a boost in the number of medical residents in the area.

The feasibility study on trauma and academic medical facilities was presented to the Regional Development Authority in September. It recommended existing hospitals earn trauma designation centers and host medical residents as part of a consortium rather than building a new facility.

Pat Bankston, associate dean at the Indiana University School of Medicine Northwest, said he presented a proposal at a regional hospital association meeting this month about how such a consortium, based off a similar model in Evansville, would work.

“The point of this would be not only to create the residencies, which would increase the quality and quantity of care in Northwest Indiana, but if we have residencies at the hospitals they would be defined by the federal government as teaching hospitals, so that’s a plus,” he said. “On top of that, we could market Northwest Indiana as the place to go for the highest quality of care, and that our citizens have no reason to go to Chicago, as many of them do now to go to university hospitals.”

The report estimated $112 million was leaving the state every year because of Hoosiers going to Illinois for care.

In addition, consulting firm Tripp Umbach estimates that each medical resident would provide an annual economic benefit of $200,000 to a given community, as well as an annual benefit of $1.5 million if the resident stays in the community to practice. Studies have found that doctors are most likely to practice in the places where they did their residencies. Both Lake and Porter counties have a shortage of primary care doctors.

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who helped secure state funding for the study, is not giving up hope that an academic medical center could be built near the IUN campus in Gary. He said the advisory board involved in the formation of the report will meet before the end of the year to discuss what to do next.

“It we were to build an academic medical center, naturally it would attract all the ancillary services related to health,” he said. “It would be a tremendous boost to economic development in the area.”

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said while increasing the educational aspects of area hospitals would make Northwest Indiana residents more likely to stay in the region for care, he doesn’t think the construction of an academic medical center is the answer.

“You have to keep coming back to the reality of the situation we’re dealing with in Lake County: that we have a whole lot of hospitals, and we have a lot of hospitals that have a lot of empty beds,” he said. “If we add more beds to it, the picture just doesn’t make sense.”

The report also recommended that two or more hospitals in the region become Level III trauma centers in the next 18 months, with at least one Level I trauma center being established within five years.

In September, Methodist Hospitals’ Northlake campus in Gary was designated by the state as an “in-process” Level III trauma center (pending final approval from the American College of Surgeons). With that designation, a surgeon must be bedside within 30 minutes of a patient’s arrival.

Mark Everette, assistant Gary fire chief in the EMS division, said that since that designation went into effect his department has been bringing more patients to Northlake rather than having a helicopter take them to trauma centers in the Chicago area. But he said the region could still use a Level I trauma center, as well as a burn unit and pediatric trauma ward.

“It’s not an easy thing for a hospital to establish a trauma center. It’s a very expensive proposition,” noted Art Logsdon, assistant commissioner for the Indiana State Department of Health. He pointed out that some states have made it less difficult by providing funding to trauma centers. “The literature clearly shows that outcomes for seriously injured trauma patients are better if they are taken to a trauma center.”

Of the hospitals in the region, Porter Regional Hospital in Valparaiso, Franciscan St. Margaret Health in Dyer and Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Crown Point are preparing to apply to become “in-process” Level III trauma centers.

But Gene Diamond, Franciscan Alliance’s regional CEO for northern Indiana, said that unless the state or federal government were to provide funding, going to a Level I designation would be cost prohibitive for the hospitals he oversees. He noted that the Franciscan hospital in Olympia Fields, Ill., gave up its Level I status a few years ago because of a lack of state funding.

“It’s a very expensive undertaking. It is labor intensive. It is technology intensive. It’s capital intensive. Significant infrastructure has to be added to hospitals in order to become Level I trauma centers,” he said. “And these are extremely sick people coming in, whether they’re injured or ill. Taking care of them requires enormous resources.”