Life and Death Situations: Utah Valley Hospital

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Emergency medical services — like the Intermountain Life Flight helicopter — work closely with the trauma center at Utah Valley Hospital. Minutes matter, and the facility and its movable partner are set to save.

As a designated Level II trauma center, Utah Valley Hospital brings the highest quality care to the sickest of the patients.

It might be a car crash. Or maybe an elderly neighbor who slipped and fell, hitting her head.

In other, more dramatic situations that hit the news, it might be a gunshot wound, leaving a victim fighting for his life.

No matter the situation, having a high-quality trauma center close by — like Utah Valley Hospital — can mean the difference between life and death.

“Every few weeks we have a ‘save,’ a situation that reminds me of why we work to be a great trauma center,” says Dr. Craig Cook, trauma services medical director at Utah Valley Hospital. “It’s a lot of work and a significant investment to have a high-level trauma team, but it makes a difference. There are situations where having the right people in the right spot, doing the right things, have absolutely saved lives. We see it all the time.”

A major trauma — like those treated by Dr. Cook and the team of hundreds of specialized physicians, nurses and therapists — typically includes multiple injuries to a patient, often occurring during a complex activity. The trauma usually requires coordination between a number of specialists and therapists.

Utah Valley Hospital is designated as a Level II trauma center, the second highest designation. However, Dr. Cook points out that there is no difference in quality of care between Level I and Level II. Level I centers simply do more academic research surrounding trauma care and outcomes.

“We have the same criteria for care,” Dr. Cook says. “We have to meet hundreds of criteria from the Committee on Trauma of the American College of Surgeons, including having 24-hour coverage of neurosurgeons, interventional radiologists, orthopedic surgeons, trauma surgeons,  and every other surgical specialty that might be needed to take care of a badly injured patient.”

Utah Valley Hospital goes above and beyond the demanding requirements, though, by having a trauma surgeon on the premises of the hospital 24 hours a day, every day. (Requirements for Level II designation simply require a surgeon on-call and within 15 minutes from the hospital.)

“The best of the best trauma centers have someone in-house 24/7,” Dr. Cook says. “This saves lives. Time is tissue. Time is life. Fifteen minutes can mean the difference between life and death. This isn’t convenient for surgeons and it isn’t convenient for the hospital, but it is the right thing for the patient. That is why we do it.”

The medical Professionals who are part of Utah Valley’s trauma team have specialized training in working fast while offering the best care available.

Utah Valley Hospital’s trauma team covers the south-central region of the state, which starts at the Point of the Mountain and goes south to near Beaver. The hospital routinely receives patients from all of the hospitals included in this region.

“We cover more area than any other hospital in the state,” Dr. Cook says. “We have about 40 percent of the state and about 40 percent of hospitals, too. We’re the referral center for about 10 or 11 hospitals in the region.”

Some of these hospitals offer some trauma services, but refer more serious cases to the team at Utah Valley Hospital.

“We take care of the sickest of the sick patients,” Dr. Cook says. “For those most in danger, the outcomes are vastly different if you are able go to a Level I or a Level II center and get the highest level care.”

Improved outcomes in trauma patients occur when expert resources are available and there is successfully coordinated definitive care. Lori Bertelsen, trauma program manager at Utah Valley Hospital, has a team of professionals who coordinate communication from team member to team member. She also works with Dr. Cook to evaluate the center and find ways to improve outcomes.

“We coordinate with every department, administrators and other hospitals to make sure we’re doing the best for every patient,” Lori says. “We have a county emergency medical services meeting each month where we review recent cases. This meeting involves leadership from each EMS agency and all hospitals in Utah County.  This open dialogue with all partners is key to best care for our patients.”

The public is also part of the solution.

“We are always in need of blood,” Lori says. “If you are in a position to give blood, that always helps people in our community have the best chance at a positive outcome.”

Lori also suggests wearing seat belts, helmets and other appropriate safety equipment. Community members learning to limit blood loss in injured loved ones — through packing, pressure or tourniquets — makes a big difference, too.

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Greg Bennett

Greg Bennett is an editor and writer with Bennett Communications. His primary responsibilities are with Utah Valley Magazine and the company's custom publications division. He's the father of four children and has been married to his wife, Adria, for 19 years. Contact Greg at greg.utahvalley360@gmail.com.

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