By ERIN MAYES
Caring for trauma patients has always been a challenge for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties because of their remote locations and hospital emergency rooms that lack some necessary equipment and staff.
The closest official trauma center for those suffering sudden, life-threatening injuries has been at Sacramento's University of California, Davis Medical Center.
But starting Feb. 2, both Memorial and Doctors medical centers in Modesto will be level II trauma centers serving seven counties, including Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne.
Level II trauma centers have acute care capabilities and surgical staff. Level I trauma centers have more employees and equipment and are usually university-based teaching hospitals.
Having designated trauma centers guarantees the care patients need will always be on hand, said Marilyn Smith, staffing and training coordinator for Modesto's Mountain Valley Emergency Medical Services Agency, a five-county group with members from all of the aforementioned counties except Tuolumne and Merced.
"It means your patients will now have designated trauma centers that they can go to and receive a higher level of care," Smith said. "There is no hospital in our five-county area that is an official trauma center they have never gone through the process to be a trauma center."
Modesto's two trauma centers will be the first in the state to be designated since California's Assembly passed a bill earlier this year allotting money to qualifying hospitals for new trauma centers, Smith said. Much of that money is going toward "massive training with paramedics and nurses so they're aware of how the new system will work."
Ambulance provider agencies, fire departments, hospitals, dispatch agencies and insurance companies from the seven counties have worked together to develop the trauma systems over the last several months, Smith said.
"We're very much in support of it," said Bill Caldera, Tuolumne County ambulance chief. "What this does is give us a guarantee of a destination of a trauma patient."