DHR awaiting visit by American College of Surgeons for Level I designation

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance announced at the Edinburg Conference Center Wednesday that it can now function as a Level 1 trauma center. Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — Doctors Hospital at Renaissance is preparing for a visit by the American College of Surgeons for verification as a Level I trauma center, the hospital announced Wednesday, which would make it the first hospital in the region to receive the highest trauma center designation.

Though it has yet to receive this official verification by ACS, DHR Health held an event Wednesday announcing that as of May 1, it is functioning as a Level I trauma center which means that trauma surgeons are on hand 24/7 and specialty care is promptly available in areas like neurosurgery and emergency medicine.

No details were provided at Wednesday’s press conference about when ACS is slated to visit.

The hospital system is currently designated as a Level III trauma center by the Texas Department of State Health Services, which provides trauma center designations in the state.

No hospital system in the Rio Grande Valley is designated a Level I facility, but both DHR and McAllen Medical Center have remained focused on this goal. Last month, McAllen Medical — operated by South Texas Health System — announced that DSHS had designated it a Level II facility.

DHR has notified DSHS that it has increased its trauma capacity, the state agency told The Monitor, noting this is a step toward designation at a new level.

“A hospital must have Level I services in place and function as a Level I before they can schedule a consultation visit and then a verification visit by the American College of Surgeons, which verifies Level I and Level II trauma centers,” DSHS Media Relations Director Chris Van Deusen said in an email.

Dr. Manish Singh, DHR Health chief executive officer, called Wednesday’s announcement an “amazing milestone not just for DHR but for the entire Rio Grande Valley and South Texas.”

Patients, he said, will no longer have to be transferred to San Antonio or Houston hospitals to receive major trauma care.

In the past three years, 836 trauma patients were transferred to San Antonio alone, according to Dr. Raul Barreda, DHR Health trauma medical director.

“Two hundred of those may have been burn (patients) and legitimately have to go to a burn center, but the majority of the other ones should have been caught here,” Barreda said.

A key distinction between Level II and I trauma centers is that Level I centers have a research and teaching component, which is why many, like DHR, are affiliated with a university.

At Wednesday’s announcement, DHR touted its affiliation with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and the more than $100 million it has invested in the school’s graduate education programs.

It currently has nine residency and fellowship training programs, including one in general surgery, and Barreda said he expects half of these residents to remain in the Valley following the completion of their program.

McAllen Medical also partners with UTRGV’s School of Medicine, in addition to San Antonio Military Medical Center, and is in the process of developing an internal research program. Its CEO, Todd Mann, said the hospital’s focus on the path toward Level I designation was achieving the “clinical component” first, as the type of trauma care at a Level I and II facility are clinically the same.

Barreda, however, said Wednesday that DHR Health took a different approach.

“A lot of times when they discuss the difference between a Level I trauma center and … other centers, they may haphazardly throw together education, like it’s just an easy add-on,” he said. “We developed the education and research prior to getting everything in place that we wanted for Level I because we wanted to make sure that was working well … and we had a quality product with our education …”