McAllen Medical celebrates Level II trauma designation

McALLEN — Monday was a day for celebration for McAllen Medical Center as it publicly announced its recent designation as a Level II trauma center.

The foam victory fingers held up by the surgeons, physicians, EMTs and hospital administrators at the news conference held by South Texas Health System captured the excitement and magnitude of the achievement: “Level II Trauma Center” the front of the fingers read, and in the back, “the FIRST and ONLY in the Upper Valley.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services designated the hospital a Level II trauma center in October following accreditation by the American College of Surgeons, said McAllen Medical Center CEO Todd Mann, who added the hospital has been operating at the Level II status for “quite some time” before it received the official designation.

“We are now serving our community with the highest level of emergency care you could get,” Mann told those in attendance. “What that means is that your family doesn’t have to be transferred out of the Valley right now.”

Whereas Level III trauma centers only have the resources and expertise to perform emergency surgery necessary to stabilize a patient before transfer to a higher-level trauma hospital, Level II centers have board-certified trauma surgeons on call around the clock. As surgeon Dr. Juan Rendon put it, McAllen Medical Center’s operating rooms “are ready to go at any time” and because of surgeons’ specialized training, it is able to provide “definitive care for trauma patients regardless of the severity of the injury.”

The only other Level II hospital in the Rio Grande Valley is Harlingen’s Valley Baptist Medical Center, which received that designation by the state last February.

Because of its location in the upper Valley, McAllen Medical Center receives patients from as far west as Laredo, as well as from nearby Starr and Brooks Counties in addition to those from Hidalgo County and even patients from Reynosa. It has about 33,000 emergency department visits a year.

Given lawmakers’ focus this legislative session on expanding the state’s network on Level I trauma centers — the highest designation — the hospital’s CEO and surgeons emphasized that Level I and Level II care are clinically the same.

“You and your family would not receive any different care; the level of care is equal,” Mann, the CEO, said. “It is the highest level in terms of the care provided to the residents of the Valley even though it is a Level II (trauma center).”

The only difference between the two is the research and teaching component, which is why many Level I hospitals are affiliated with a university.

McAllen Medical Center already partners with the University of Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, and students in its Physician Assistant Studies program complete rotations in its intensive care unit. It also launched a fellowship program two years ago with San Antonio Military Medical Center, the Department of Defense’s only Level I trauma center, through which SAMMC surgeons perform surgeries in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We felt the bigger need was, ‘let’s get the clinical component so we can be taking care of residents of the Rio Grande Valley sooner rather than later,’” Mann said of McAllen Medical Center’s focus on working toward the Level II designation.

As it looks to become South Texas’ first Level I hospital, Mann said the focus will be on having an internal research program rather than one tied to a specific university.

Attendees hold up red foam fingers to celebrate McAllen Medical Center’s recent designation upgrade from a Level III to Level II trauma hospital. (Courtesy of McAllen Medical Center)

Another area hospital hoping to reach Level I status is Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, which has worked on building support from area lawmakers and city officials across the county to have the Texas Legislature budget money to help hospitals make the transition to the highest trauma level. DHR is currently designated a Level III facility.

Mann is supportive of legislative efforts to allocate funds to expand the state’s number of Level I trauma centers but wants the funding to be equally distributed, not “singled out for one hospital.”

“We’ve already shouldered the burden of the expenses associated with Level II and we never asked for anybody to help us; we did it on our own because it was the right thing to do for our citizens,” he said. “And so if there is funding, we should get our fair share of it. We just want it to be fair and equitable.”