UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center is accepting patients with lower-level trauma in its emergency department. Observer file photo.

UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center has notified emergency medical service providers that it’s ready to accept some trauma patients in its emergency department.

It’s a major step in a lengthy process that in the next year or two could lead the New Mexico Department of Health to certify SRMC as a Level III trauma center.

The SRMC medical and nursing staff has spent the better part of the past year assembling the resources needed to offer trauma care and meeting the administrative requirements for achieving certification, said Dr. Patricia Souchon, an assistant professor in the University of New Mexico Department of Surgery who serves as the hospital’s trauma medical director.

“At this point, it’s very exciting, because we’re seeing all the work we’ve done being put into practice,” she said. “We’re increasing our level of readiness and people are getting comfortable treating sicker patients.”

A Level III trauma center can provide resuscitation, surgery, intensive care and stabilization of injured patients and emergency operations.

The certification process has entailed hiring the surgeons and anesthesiologists needed to be available to treat trauma patients, as well guaranteeing operating room capacity.

“It required a lot of logistics to get to this level of readiness,” Souchon said.

The plan is for SRMC to handle lower-level trauma patients whose injuries could be treated by a general surgeon or an orthopedic surgeon. Patients with traumatic brain injury and other acute needs would be transported to UNM Hospital’s Level I trauma center, she said.

UNM-H has the only Level I trauma center in New Mexico and the surrounding region. The designation signifies that the hospital is capable of handling every aspect of injury and has 24-hour in-house coverage by general surgeons, with experts from myriad sub-specialties on call to provide care.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to significantly offload the UNM system by being able to see the lower-level and a few of the higher-level traumas at SRMC,” Souchon said.

SRMC, which opened in Rio Rancho’s City Center in 2012, hosts elective orthopedic surgeries. UNM’s new Orthopedic Center of Excellence will open next door in 2021.

In November 2018, Sandoval County voters approved an eight-year property tax increase of $63 per $100,000 of taxable value to pay for SRMC becoming a Level III trauma center, as well as a number of mental health services in the community.

The SRMC trauma team needs to demonstrate its competence in caring for patients before it can be certified, Souchon said.

“The state has asked us to act like a trauma center for 12 months before they can come survey us,” she said, adding that if all goes well, the hospital could receive Level III certification in 12-18 months.

“We’re in very exciting times,” Souchon said. “Everybody has expressed a lot of enthusiasm for this program. We’ve done a lot of meetings to make sure everybody feels comfortable taking care of these patients.”