State health officials want to arm hospitals with resources to help them care for the most seriously injured patients.
A symposium about achieving trauma center designation is planned for March in Indianapolis, State Health Commissioner Dr. Gregory Larkin said.
"Our goal, no matter what ZIP code you live in within the state of Indiana, you're within 45 minutes of a trauma center," he said.
Eight Indiana hospitals are trauma centers, with a ninth nearing the designation.
Larkin expects that number to increase with the recent passage of the Triage and Transport Rule by the Emergency Medical Services Commission.
The rule requires patients with severe injuries to be taken directly to a trauma center for treatment -- unless the closest center is more than 45 minutes away or doing so would put the person's life in danger.
Hospitals must apply through the American College of Surgeons for trauma verification, and the spring symposium will help them understand the process, Larkin said.
Methodist Hospitals has applied for a Level III trauma designation for its Gary and Merrillville campuses, hired a trauma coordinator and is hiring trauma surgeons, CEO Ian McFadden said.
"We want to be prepared for the most serious cases," he said. "We don't want to transfer anyone out unnecessarily."
Level III centers require general surgeons to be on staff and can provide, "prompt assessment, resuscitation, emergency operations and stabilization and also arrange for possible transfer to a facility that can provide definitive trauma care," according to the American College of Surgeons.
Traumatic injuries are the No. 1 killer of Hoosiers under age 45, according to the state.
Samuel Flint, associate director of Indiana University Northwest's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and graduate students Fred Buckley and Catherine Spann in October presented findings about trauma care needs in Northwest Indiana.
Data from 2010 and 2011, from two-thirds of the region's hospitals, show 1,060 patients were transferred for trauma or pediatric trauma care.
The impact goes beyond residents of the six Northwest Indiana counties, as 23.8 percent of patients transferred to trauma centers live outside the region, Flint said, pointing to the concentration of highways crossing through the area as part of the reason.
"If people are riding from Indianapolis to Chicago and get behind an 18-wheeler that jackknifes, they're in trouble," Flint said. "People are driving through a danger zone without even realizing it."
Local trauma patients commonly are transferred to Chicago, Oak Lawn, Fort Wayne or Indianapolis for care.
Cost is often to blame for the lack of a local trauma center.
"They are expensive," Flint said. "Trauma centers around the country are closing because they can't maintain the revenue to have trauma surgeons on staff."
Compared to communities with similar economic wherewithal, such as Essex County, N.J., and Genesee County, Mich., those areas have trauma centers, Flint said.
Local health care systems have found money for other needs, so they should find the money for trauma centers, John Hart said.
Hart, a Cedar Lake firefighter/paramedic who recently lost the race to represent Indiana's 11th District in the Statehouse, is the former union president of the East Chicago EMS International Association of Firefighters Union and former co-chair of the EMS section of the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association. He is an advocate for a local trauma center and statewide trauma system.
Hart is originally from Illinois and credits their trauma system.
"It was a huge culture shock for me, being an EMS provider and coming to Indiana, in that there is no trauma system here," he said.
Everyone is at risk.
"People need to know trauma is not just shootings and stabbings," Hart said. "The majority of trauma cases are not acts of violence. Every time you leave your house in the vehicle, you're at risk for a trauma. The problem is, everyone counts on not being the one in that accident."