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Two Austin Hospitals to Seek Top Trauma Center Status

AUSTIN -- After an encouraging dress rehearsal, two Austin hospitals - University Medical Center at Brackenridge and Dell Children's Medical Center - will seek the highest level of patient-care designation for their trauma centers in May or June, Seton Family of Hospitals officials said Thursday.

The officials disclosed their plans to the Travis County Healthcare District, which owns University Medical Center and leases it to Seton to operate. Seton officials asked the district board Thursday for a one-time contribution of $350,000 in tax money to help achieve the status, which Austin emergency-rescue leaders have coveted for years. The money would be used to establish a surgery program that officials said was the final test they needed to win Level 1 trauma center status.

"Austin is the biggest city in the United States without a Level 1 trauma center," Dr. Carlos Brown, chief of trauma services at University Medical Center, said in an interview. A Level 1 trauma center is "the core of an academic medical center," he said, adding the status would boost Austin's chances of landing a medical school.

Most Level 1 trauma centers are linked to medical schools. The centers have vibrant research programs, and though University Medical Center and Dell Children's are engaging researchers and have a cadre of professors for a growing list of doctor training programs, Austin could lure more doctors and researchers with a Level 1 center.

University Medical Center, a Level 2, is the only trauma center in the region.

Brown said he would not have left California 18 months ago for Austin, where he grew up, if he did not think University Medical Center would be elevated to the more prestigious Level 1 designation. He and other officials told the health care district board they think both hospitals are in a good position to move up.

The state awards the designation after a review by the American College of Surgeons. Representatives came on a "consultation visit," said Bruce Broslat, chief operating officer of University Medical Center. "We're very optimistic about passing this survey," he told the board.

The last hurdle is creating a center for reconstructive and plastic surgery that would reattach fingers, toes and limbs - emergencies that cause 60 patients a year to go for help to Houston, Dallas and other cities with Level 1 centers, said Greg Hartman, a Seton senior vice president. Another 600 leave for complicated reconstructions involving the face, feet, hands and breasts.

The board is likely to approve the request Feb. 26. Seton said it would spend about $1.3 million a year operating the center.

The board also is proceeding with plans to establish a low-cost health insurance program for small employers, which organizers hope to launch by April 1.

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