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St. Mary’s expands trauma center to serve growing region, volatile world

Oct 29, 2018

The West Palm Beach center, which handles about 1,800 cases per year, wants ‘to be ready’ for any event.

St. Mary’s Medical Center says a more than $10 million expansion and renovation is preparing its trauma center to serve a growing county and an increasingly volatile world.

The project, due to be completed by the end of the year, will give the West Palm Beach hospital four new trauma bays to replace the one it has now, along with several other changes to improve its response to critical and life-threatening injuries.

St. Mary’s trauma center has Level 1 status, certified by the state to deal with the most serious of cases. “We’re updating the technology. We’re expanding the capacity and planning for the future,” said Gabrielle Finley-Hazle, CEO of St. Mary’s & The Palm Beach Children’s Hospital.

Most of the hospital’s more than 1,800 trauma patients each year arrive because of injuries from falls and car crashes in its service area, which extends from northern Palm Beach County to the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee County, hospital officials said.

But they also acknowledged needing to be prepared to respond to a mass casualty event, such as the one that saw 17 killed and 17 others injured in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The St. Mary’s renovations were already underway when the Parkland shootings occurred, but that moment emphasized the need for hospitals to train and prepare for such situations, Finley-Hazle said.

“The population of Palm Beach County is growing, so we’re expecting in the future to see even more trauma patients than we’re seeing now, said Dr. Robert Borrego, the medical director of trauma for St. Mary’s & The Palm Beach Children’s Hospital. “Additionally, given what’s happening today with the gun violence and mass shootings, we want to be ready.”

Since 1991, the 45th Street hospital been designated by the state as an advanced trauma-care hospital. The trauma-unit staff now includes eight doctors, nine nurses and seven nurse practitioners.

Borrego said the expansion will allow that staff to respond to trauma cases faster and more efficiently.

“The technology 27 years ago and today is a lot different,” he said. “All these rooms take that into consideration.”

A new entrance will sit closer to the landing bay for the Trauma Hawk helicopters that fly patients to the medical center. Ambulances will have a larger bay as well, one that includes a specific hazmat area where patients can be decontaminated. An overhead hospital boom will be able to rotate around patients, allowing trauma unit staff to check a patient’s vitals quickly.

Each of the four trauma bays can become operating rooms if needed. One will be designed specifically for pediatric trauma patients.

“Some patients that come in really unstable, that we cannot take them to the operating room, then we can do the surgeries here,” Borrego said. “We can do the damage control, initial preparations here.”

The expansion is part of a multiphase project that will also include improvements to the hospital’s emergency room, Finley-Hazle said. The project is being funded by Tenet Healthcare, a for-profit corporation that owns St. Mary’s and Delray Medical Center, the county’s state-designated Level 1 trauma centers, as well as three other medical centers in the county.

Delray Medical Center underwent an $80 million expansion in 2017 that added included new patient rooms and a new landing pad for Trauma Hawk helicopters.

“We want to be on the cutting edge,” Finley-Hazle said. We don’t ever want to be resting on our laurels.”

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