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Billings Clinic first Level 1 trauma center in four-state region

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SCL-Intermountain working to become comprehensive trauma center in Billings as well


The Billings Clinic has been certified as Montana’s first Level 1 Trauma Center, the only one within a 550-mile radius, that includes all of Montana and Wyoming, said the clinic this month in a press release.

The certification is a step toward both of the largest hospitals in the state to provide more trauma care across a state that has a lot of roads, a lot of weather and hospitals that are spread out. 

“Our broad and unique geography means that Montana has one of lowest trauma survival rates in the nation. This has been one of the driving forces behind Billings Clinic’s journey to becoming a Level I Trauma Center – to ensure that people in Montana and Wyoming have access to the highest levels of care closer to home,” said Zachary Benoit, community relations for the Billings Clinic.

St. Vincent Healthcare also offers trauma services and said in a news release from SCL Health that it was the first hospital to apply for Level 1 verification in August 2022.

St. Vincent’s goal is to become the official state of Montana’s very first Comprehensive Trauma Center, as early as 2024, and it anticipates the review results from ACS will be done by the end of 2023.

Trauma injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans up to the age of 44, and the fourth leading cause overall for all ages, according to Billings Clinic press release. With a rural population sometimes living hundreds of miles from the nearest trauma center, trauma survival rates in Montana are lower than much of the rest of the country, the clinic said. Clinic leader said this adds up to make the availability of high-level trauma services throughout the region both critical and urgent.

“Rural communities have lower trauma survival rates because, while served admirably by critical access hospitals, they may not have local access to higher level complex care services and are farther away from those services when needed,” said Benoit.

There are no Level 1 Trauma clinics in Wyoming, Idaho, or South Dakota, and previously in Montana. The closest trauma centers are in Salt Lake City (548 miles), Denver (555 miles), and Seattle (819 miles).

Gordon Riha, Billings Clinic assistant trauma medical director and surgery resident director, said the verification of Level 1 is huge for the Billings community and the entire region.

The Billings Clinic Level 1 Trauma Center also is focused on creating a regional trauma network that would connect facilities throughout Montana and Wyoming.

“You don’t get to choose when a serious accident happens,” said Michael Englehart, general and trauma surgeon and Billings Clinic Trauma Medical Director, in a statement. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access to lifesaving care anywhere you are. That’s why partnering with hospitals and communities across Montana and Wyoming to develop additional trauma services and education is important to us.”

The coordinated regional network shares resources and expertise so that much of that care can be administered before a patient is taken to Billings. This network will include providing specialized trauma training to staff at rural facilities, streamlining communication, enhanced telehealth to connect trauma specialists remotely, and having surgical residents on rotation at rural facilities.

Billings Clinic has an upcoming construction of a new transfer center that will help coordinate transfers, reduce delays, and get paints where they need to more quickly.

“People do better when they get their care close to home, and that’s why we’ve passionately pursued this – to give everyone the same level of lifesaving care when they need it, no matter where they live,” Englehart said.

The Billings Clinic Foundation capital campaign will be providing funding to expand operating rooms and build the new state-of-art transfer center to reduce the transport delays.

The clinic will also build Montana’s first dedicated Surgical Intensive Care Unit, which is expected to open in 2024. 

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