People in Tarrant County have two options for advanced trauma care: JPS Health Network, and now, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
The latter hospital earned both a statewide designation and approval from an international surgical association in January to become a Level 1 Trauma Center, a distinction granted only to facilities that can provide patients with “total care for every aspect of injury,” according to the American Trauma Society. JPS Health Network first earned the label in January 2010.
For patients, a second Level 1 Trauma Center in town means more resources and more choices for trauma care.
“When somebody else comes in and they’re a Level 1 Trauma Center, that’s awesome because that means that my community is going to have even better care,” said Dr. Raj Gandhi, a trauma surgeon and medical director of trauma at JPS Health Network. “I think that’s outstanding.”
What is trauma care?
Treatment of critical injuries that threaten “life or limbs,” according to Penn Medicine. For example, gun shot wounds, burns and traumatic brain injuries.
Hospitals that care for trauma patients operate on one of four levels based on resources and patient volume: Level I-IV.
Level I hospitals provide trauma care from prevention to outpatient treatment. They have the most resources and treat the most severely injured patients.
Level II hospitals, like Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, must provide similarly comprehensive care. However, they may be unable to offer more complex, specialized treatment like reattaching a finger or toe cut from the body.
Level I Trauma Centers have further distinctions. For example, they must admit a certain number of trauma patients each year, conduct trauma research and train residents.
“It’s a long process,” said Ann Quinlan, a registered nurse and trauma program manager at Texas Health Fort Worth. The hospital became a Level II Trauma Center in 1988, she said. “But the one component we didn’t have is a residency program.”
“If a hospital is a Level I Trauma Center, it is expected that the hospital plays a role in training the next generation of trauma care providers,” Dr. Avery Nathens, medical director of trauma quality programs at the American College of Surgeons, wrote in an email.
Texas Health Fort Worth welcomed its first cohort of general surgery residents in 2021. The program sharpens patient care, Quinlan said.
“The residents keep you on your toes,” she said. “They’re constantly reading and researching things and doing projects, so they always come in with the latest and greatest.”
With Texas Health’s Level I designation, trauma patients in theory will be able to receive the same standard of care at either hospital. If a patient is so badly injured they can’t choose a hospital, however, a medic will decide which Level I Trauma Center they’ll pursue, Quinlan said. “Usually the paramedics go off where they’re located, which facility is the closest,” she said.
Two authorities determine a hospital’s level: the state and the American College of Surgeons, a professional association for surgeons around the world. In Texas, a hospital must first be verified Level I by the American College of Surgeons. Then, if the hospital meets additional criteria, the state designates it Level I. A hospital might be verified, but not designated.
For years, JPS Health Network has been the sole Level I Trauma Center in Tarrant County. After more than a decade with the designation, the hospital has refined its processes for improvement, Gandhi said.
“From (the patient’s) arrival to their departure and follow up in the clinic, there are literally hundreds of different processes that we’ve been improving over the last 13 years,” he said.
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.