HAMMOND | Safety officials say a state rule regarding trauma patient care is taking police and paramedics off the streets for hours at a time, illustrating the need for a local trauma center.
"I totally support the idea and concept of a trauma center," said Jeff Marsack, EMS coordinator for the Hammond Fire Department and part-time paramedic at Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Hammond.
Traffic jams, trains and bridges can slow down a trip from the region to a trauma center.
"There's so much potential for us to be prolonged," he said. "A 40-minute transport can end up being several hours."
Tying up firefighters by traveling to Illinois for a trauma call means there are fewer people to staff fire trucks at that station. If there is a fire while an ambulance is in Illinois with a patient, other stations have to assist from elsewhere in Hammond, Marsack said.
The state last year began requiring paramedics to take patients suffering traumatic injury to a trauma center, unless it is more than 45 minutes away or if the patient asks to be treated at a local hospital.
Northwest Indiana has no trauma centers, so patients who have traumatic injuries most often are taken to trauma centers in Oak Lawn, Ill., South Bend or Indianapolis, depending on a number of factors, including distance and the type of injury.
The University of Chicago Medicine’s Aeromedical Network can send a helicopter to transport patients by air.
The state ruling gives some flexibility to emergency responders. If there is no way a patient would survive the trip to a trauma center, he can be taken to a nearby hospital to be stabilized before being transferred, Marsack said.
Recent trauma victim 14-year-old Shedevan Gibbs died Wednesday at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, a trauma center, as a result of injuries he suffered in a crash during a police chase in Gary.
Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller and Fire Chief Jeff Smith discussed the issue at a recent Mayor's Night Out event, a forum where citizens discuss city matters with city leaders. The topic came up during talk of renewed efforts to bring a trauma center to northwest Indiana.
"Naturally, we need to have a trauma center," Smith said.
Hammond sends trauma patients over the state line several times a month, according to city emergency officials.
"Is it an issue? Yes it's an issue, there's no doubt," Miller said. "That squad car is out of my city for a long period."
Evidence technicians, detectives and accident investigators need to photograph and interview victims regularly.
"One of the problems is many people they transport have been involved in accidents," Miller said. "My accident investigators have to go out of state to investigate. It takes them away from the street."
Miller and Smith wrote letters to state emergency officials requesting an exemption, but they received no reply, Miller said.
"The state says, if we can get there in 45 minutes, we have to go," Smith said.
There are some exceptions. If traffic is a hindrance, weather is bad, a conscious trauma patient refuses transport to a center or if the injury is so serious that a patient would not survive the transfer, a patient can be taken to a local hospital, Smith said.
Hammond has three nearby hospitals, including Franciscan St. Margaret Health, which is within city limits.
"We had a call two weeks ago, one block from the hospital, and we had to go to Oak Lawn," Smith said. "The ambulance was gone for an hour and 45 minutes."