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Trauma Center a Reality Long Before Other Hospitals Considered One

CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center-originally called Saint Joseph Hospital-had a trauma center in the 1970s long before other hospitals even considered one.

Richard Booth, M.D., medical director of Saint Joseph and co-founder of Creighton's Cardiac Center, remembered the hospital's new President and Chief Executive Officer James Ensign arriving in the early 70s and bringing the vision of a trauma center with him. "He was from back east. It was the first thing that happened," said Dr. Booth. "Originally everyone just went to the local ER. There was no trauma system at all."

Ray Gaines, M.D., was the first surgeon in the leading edge trauma department. Dr. Gaines was also one of the first African-American physicians in the metropolitan area. He was a bariatric surgeon and had a passion for trauma work. "He was the face of it," remembered former CUMC - Bergan Mercy Trauma Program Manager Megan Sorensen. "Everyone knew him."

Dr. Gaines worked closely with Lincoln physician James Styner after a small plane accident in 1976 in which Dr. Styner's wife died and his four young children were seriously injured. They suffered numerous injuries from lacerations and fractures to head injuries. Dr. Styner was alarmed when he saw how doctors in the small rural hospital near the crash site had little training in the management of serious trauma. He worked with several colleagues including Dr. Gaines and the prototype for the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course was held two years later. Since then ATLS has been taught to more than a million doctors in more than 50 countries.

In 1975, while ATLS was being born, Saint Joseph Hospital moved from south Omaha to what is now Creighton University Medical Center - Bergan Mercy at 7500 Mercy Road. The third floor became the "life support" floor, consolidating all emergency and intensive care services onto one level. Included were the emergency department, surgical suites, recovery, radiology, intensive care, coronary care and the catheterization laboratory. In 1979, Saint Joseph procured Life Flight, its medical helicopter, for more quickly transporting severely ill and injured patients. The helicopter was on call 24 hours a day and landed on a helipad just yards from the emergency entrance on the life support level. Saint Joseph was only the ninth hospital in the country to start such a program and the first in Nebraska with helicopter service.

At about the same time, officials with the city of Omaha recognized the value of a trauma center and created the job of medical director of emergency medical training. Anthony Carnazzo, M.D., became director, responsible for training emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Dr. Carnazzo trained class after class of paramedics and set up advanced level classes and EMT courses.

A lot of people would have died had the trauma center not been established at CUMC, said Dr. Booth. "A lot of hospitals were just not set up to take trauma cases."

In 1993, the Omaha Trauma System was formally announced a partnership of Omaha's two academic medical centers, Creighton University Medical Center and the Nebraska Medical Center, and LifeFlight (Life Net), an air ambulance service. CUMC and NMC shared trauma call. In 2014, Nebraska Medical Center, now Nebraska Medicine dissolved this agreement and now both programs operate independently of one another.

The concept of a trauma center began in Maryland about 1960 when R. Adams Cowley, M.D., opened a trauma unit with two beds. In 1968 Dr. Cowley negotiated to have patients brought in by military helicopter. He's also credited for setting up an emergency care system that included physicians, nurses, fire departments, ambulance services and law enforcement.