Upgrading the trauma designation for Sarasota Memorial Hospital doesn’t just bring some added prestige to the medical facility—it has the potential to save lives on the Gulf Coast. The Department of Health in July issued a full designation for the hospital as a Level II trauma center. Hospital officials say the new designation will ensure critically injured patients in Sarasota County can be treated closer to home. The next closest Level II trauma center, according to the Florida Department of Health, is Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. The closest Level I trauma center in the region remains Tampa General in Tampa. 

Jennifer Sweeney, SMH’s trauma program manager, says the designation has long been needed in the region. It’s important, physicians say, to treat a patient within 60 minutes of sustaining major injuries, and for those in South Sarasota or DeSoto County, a trip to Blake or south to Lee Memorial Hospital was just too long a trip. “The area really has the need for two trauma centers,” Sweeney says.

Hospital officials say the trauma program requires a $16-million investment over three years, including specially equipped trauma bays, operating rooms, a trauma intensive care unit, a trauma step-down unit and several specialty nursing units. The next step at the trauma center will be a trauma progressive care unit to help transition patients from critical care to rehabilitation. At the end of this year, the 44-bed Rehabilitation Pavilion is scheduled to open. Sarasota Memorial developed a specialized team including eight trauma surgeons and two orthopedic traumatologists, as well as other emergency physicians, subspecialists, trauma and intensive care nurses and rehabilitation specialists. The Sarasota Public Hospital Board officially began the process of seeking the trauma center designation in early 2015. SMH got provisional approval to open the center in May 2015 and has since treated more than 2,000 patients. The overall trauma mortality rate in the first year was 2.9 percent, well below the 4.31 percent benchmark reported nationally for all trauma centers in 2015, according to Dr. Alan Brookhurst, SMH’s trauma center medical director.

The full designation will now stand until 2023. “This milestone achievement validates everyone’s commitment—from the Hospital Board to physicians, nurses and staff—to providing the most advanced, lifesaving care,” says David Verinder, CEO for Sarasota Memorial Health Care System. Sweeney says the Department of Health determined the region could handle two trauma centers—Blake and SMH—but it was public demand that led the hospital to embark on the process. “It really was the community speaking up,” she says. “They wanted to know why, when a loved one was injured, they were flown out of the county when there was such a great hospital in their own backyard.”