A Florida jury has awarded $12 million for the death of a premature baby caused by medical malpractice. The parents contended in their suit that the hospital negligently accepted a transfer of the baby from another hospital, but did not have the appropriate specialists on its staff to deal with their baby’s infection. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.
In Maryland and the District of Columbia, most hospitals can be classified as academic medical centers (like the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center, George Washington University Medical Center or Georgetown University Hospital, etc.) or community hospitals (like Sinai Hospital, Harbor Hospital, Shady Grove Adventist, etc.). Maryland and District of Columbia hospitals also are labeled according to what type of trauma center they are.
The concept of a trauma center was developed at the University of Maryland Medical Center in the 1960s and 1970s by heart surgeon and shock researcher R Adams Cowley, who founded what became the Shock Trauma Center. Trauma centers in the United States are ranked by the American College of Surgeons (ACS), from level I (comprehensive service) to level III (limited-care). The different levels refer to the type of resources available in a trauma center and the number of patients admitted yearly.
A level I trauma center provides the highest level of surgical care to trauma patients. It has a full range of specialists and equipment available 24 hours a day and admits a minimum required annual volume of severely injured patients. A level I trauma center is required to have a certain number of surgeons and anesthesiologists on duty 24 hours a day at the hospital, an education program, preventive and outreach programs. Other required elements include 24-hour in-house coverage by general surgeons and prompt availability of care in varying specialties such as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology, internal medicine, oral and maxillofacial surgery, and critical care, which are needed to adequately respond and care for various forms of trauma that a patient may suffer. Additionally, a Level I center has a program of research, is a leader in trauma education and injury prevention, and is a referral resource for communities in nearby regions.
A level II trauma center works in collaboration with a Level I center. It provides comprehensive trauma care and supplements the clinical expertise of a level I institution. It provides 24-hour availability of all essential specialties, personnel, and equipment. Minimum volume requirements may depend on local conditions. These institutions are not required to have an ongoing program of research or a surgical residency program.
A level III trauma center does not have the full availability of specialists, but does have resources for emergency resuscitation, surgery, and intensive care of most trauma patients. A level III center has transfer agreements with level I or level II trauma centers that provide back-up resources for the care of exceptionally severe injuries.
Obviously, a Maryland or District of Columbia hospital can be liable for medical malpractice / medical negligence for failing to have the required specialist on the premises, or readily available as required by the ACS, if it causes an injury or damage.