Sierra Vista hospital to improve care for trauma patients with new designation

Note: This story has been edited to clarify that Sierra Vista's Level III designation takes effect March 1, and to add information about French hospital's specialty designation.

Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center will become San Luis Obispo County’s sole Level III trauma center March 1, allowing it to heighten its level of trauma care to county residents.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning approved the agreement and the designation.

“While we have four hospitals that all offer emergency medicine, Sierra Vista will be the only facility with a specialty designation for trauma treatment,” Steve Lieberman, county emergency medical services director, said in an email to The Tribune.

French Hospital Medical Center, Lieberman went on, has a specialty designation as a "STEMI" Center, which focuses on cardiac care. A STEMI is considered to be the most critical type of heart attack, and when quickly diagnosed and treated can significantly reduce damage to the heart, he said.

The purpose of a trauma system is to reduce unnecessary deaths and disability from severe injury, according to a report to Supervisors from Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm and Health Officer Penny Borenstein.

It provides more immediate and thorough care from highly trained specialists, they wrote — “an established process to ensure trauma patients receive immediate evaluation and care from trauma specialists.”

Level III centers have resources for the immediate emergency resuscitation, surgery, and intensive care for most trauma patients, Hamm and Borenstein wrote.

Trauma is the leading cause of death for people ages 1 through 44, they wrote, and 35 percent of trauma patients in the U.S. die “because optimal acute care is not available.”

Supervisors unanimously greeted the designation with enthusiasm. Supervisor Paul Teixeira said traumatic injuries are well-known to him as the supervisor representing South County, where injuries from off-road activities at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area occur.