A trauma center is a hospital equipped and staffed to provide care for patients suffering from major traumatic injuries such as falls, motor vehicle collisions, or gunshot wounds.
Trauma centers vary in their specific capabilities and are identified by "Level" designation: Level-I (Level-1) being the highest, to Level-III (Level-3) being the lowest (some states have five designated levels, in which case Level-V (Level-5) is the lowest).
The highest levels of trauma centers have access to specialist medical and nursing care including emergency medicine, trauma surgery, critical care, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and radiology, as well as highly sophisticated surgical and diagnostic equipment. Lower levels of trauma centers may only be able to provide initial care and stabilization of a traumatic injury and arrange for transfer of the victim to a higher level of trauma care.
A trauma center will often have a helipad for receiving patients that have been airlifted to the hospital. In many cases, persons injured in remote areas and transported to a distant trauma center by helicopter can receive faster and better medical care than if they had been transported by ground ambulance to a closer hospital that does not have a designated trauma center.
A Level I trauma center is required to have a certain number of the following people on duty 24 hours a day at the hospital:
- emergency medicine physicians
- an education program
- preventive and outreach programs
Key elements include 24‑hour in‑house coverage by general surgeons and prompt availability of care in varying specialties — such as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, plastic surgery (plastic surgeons often have expertise in dealing with upper extremity and facial injuries; they play a crucial role in assessing, debriding and reconstructing the full spectrum of soft tissue defects), anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology, internal medicine, oral and maxillofacial surgery and otolaryngology (trained to treat injuries of the facial skin, muscles, bones), and critical care, which are needed to adequately respond and care for various forms of trauma that a patient may suffer and rehabilitation services.
Additionally, a Level I center has a program of research and is a leader in trauma education and injury prevention.
A Level II trauma center works in collaboration with a Level I center. It provides comprehensive trauma care and supplements the clinical expertise of a Level I institution. It provides 24-hour availability of all essential specialties, personnel, and equipment. These institutions are not required to have an ongoing program of research or a surgical residency program.
A Level IV trauma center exists in some states where the resources do not exist for a Level III trauma center. It provides initial evaluation, stabilization, diagnostic capabilities, and transfer to a higher level of care. It may also provide surgery and critical-care services, as defined in the scope of services for trauma care. A trauma-trained nurse is immediately available, and physicians are available upon the patient's arrival to the Emergency Department.
Provides initial evaluation, stabilization, diagnostic capabilities, and transfer to a higher level of care. May provide surgical and critical-care services, as defined in the service's scope of trauma-care services. A trauma-trained nurse is immediately available, and physicians are available upon patient arrival in the Emergency Department. If not open 24 hours daily, the facility must have an after-hours trauma response protocol.
Notable Trauma Centers
- Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital (Level-I)
- Mercy West Medical Center (Level-I)
- Seattle Grace Hospital (Level-I)*
- Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital (former Level-I)*
- Seattle Presbyterian Hospital
- USC Medical Center (Level-I)
Notes and Trivia
- When Seattle Grace Hospital lowered in teaching hospital rankings, they were downgraded from a Level-I to a Level-II trauma center. However, when Major Owen Hunt was added to the staff as its new trauma head, the hospital was reclassified as a Level-I trauma center.
- When Seattle Grace Hospital was downgraded to Level-II, they were required to coordinate with Mercy West Medical Center as they were a Level-I trauma center and receive their "cast offs".
- Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital was stripped of its trauma level designation when its E.R. closed in preparation of being sold. When the E.R. re-opened, the trauma level designation was not returned until the hospital was re-branded as Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.
- Seattle Presbyterian Hospital is a trauma center. However, its designation has not yet been mentioned on Grey's Anatomy.