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“The symposium is such a great way to develop relationships with everyone who treats trauma patients in our region, which ultimately improves survival and outcomes."

Published Apr 4th, 2024

By Carol McPhail

Almost a year after a shooting at a bank in Louisville, Kentucky, trauma surgeon and health system leader Jason Smith, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., relayed lessons learned from the incident and its aftermath.

For one thing, preparing a health system for a natural disaster like a tornado is very different from preparing for an event like the Old National Bank shooting, which killed five people and injured eight in April 2023. That event put UofL Health in the national spotlight.

“When you respond to something like this, from the moment it happens, you begin to feel overwhelmed, and it is difficult to process,” Smith told about 250 healthcare providers gathered at the 13th Annual Gulf Coast Trauma Symposium in Biloxi, Mississippi recently. “You get news media that isn’t from your town showing up and wanting to talk to you. You get people trying to sneak into the hospital to take pictures of patients. It’s a very different feeling, and it requires a different level of care.”

Smith, who is system chief medical officer for UofL Health, also urged leaders at the symposium to involve employees from across the care continuum in disaster planning. “We tend to think of the emergency department, the operating room, the paramedics and EMS staff as being the people who are responding to the disaster, but everyone in that hospital responds to the disaster, from the cafeteria staff to the nutrition staff to environmental services,” he said.

The two-day trauma symposium at the Golden Nugget Biloxi Hotel & Casino drew participants from across the Southeast. It was hosted by the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at USA Health University Hospital in conjunction with the Alabama Gulf EMS System. Home to south Alabama’s only level 1 trauma center, University Hospital cares for more than 3,000 trauma patients and 450 burn patients each year.

Jon D. Simmons, M.D., FACS, trauma division chief and trauma medical director at University Hospital, said he was pleased with both the quality of the presentations and the attendance. “This symposium is a major part of our outreach program, and we use it to improve trauma care in our region,” Simmons said.

Each year, organizers plan the symposium by asking regional ER physicians, nurses and EMS providers for educational topics and then selecting the best speakers for each topic. “The symposium is also such a great way to develop relationships with everyone who treats trauma patients in our region, which ultimately improves survival and outcomes,” Simmons said.

Smith gave the William A.L. Mitchell Endowment Lectureship, while Matthew “Macky” Neal, M.D., professor of surgery and Watson Fund in Surgery Chair at the University of Pittsburgh, presented the John Emory Campbell Lectureship.

Neal discussed various blood products used in the pre-hospital setting, reviewing pros and cons of each. He related the story of a 26-year-old woman in Pennsylvania who was accidentally shot in the lower abdomen by a family member while they were reviewing gun safety. An air medical crew arrived and initiated a transfusion with packed red blood cells at the scene before taking the patient to the hospital by helicopter, Neal said. She had to be resuscitated in the operating room and underwent multiple surgeries. Nonetheless, she survived.

“That’s her at her wedding,” said Neal, pointing to an image of a beaming couple shown on a large screen. “This is a life saved by pre-hospital care and transfusion.”

Other speakers at the symposium gave presentations on handling difficult patients, developing leadership skills and caring for trauma patients who are pregnant. Ashley Williams Hogue, M.D., trauma surgeon and director of Project Inspire, gave an overview of the how the injury prevention program educates and mentors youth to curb gun violence and recidivism.

Michael Chang, M.D., chief medical officer at USA Health and associate vice president for medical affairs, gave a talk on better outcomes, a perception on safety and quality. “We define quality by saying healthcare is safe, timely, efficient, equitable, effective and patient-centered,” Chang said.

He noted that the American College of Surgeons drives quality at the hospital level with its rigorous standards defining optimal structures and processes.

Hospitals striving to improve outcomes for patients can take four methodical steps toward performance improvement, Chang said. “You’ve got to identify the opportunity. That’s looking at individual cases or looking at aggregate data of how you perform compared to others,” he said. “Then you get people together to create an action plan. Ask, ‘What was wrong with our structures and processes? And what do we need to change?’”

Next, leaders can enlist a high-performing team to make the needed changes to structures and processes. “Then you’ve got to close the loop; that is, measure the new structures and processes to see if we’ve done what we set out to do,” he said.

Next year’s Gulf Coast Trauma Symposium will be held March 26-28, 2025, at the Golden Nugget Biloxi Hotel & Casino.

See photos from the event.

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