Las Vegas’s Only Trauma Center To Close Today
Las Vegas' only trauma center will close today after all but one of their 58 orthopedic surgeons quit, citing "skyrocketing" medical malpractice insurance premiums, the Las Vegas Sun reports (Kanigher, Las Vegas Sun, 7/2). According to the Nevada State Medical Association, about 140 physicians in Clark County have quit, retired or threatened to do so since February because their malpractice insurance premiums have doubled this year. The 10-year-old University Medical Center trauma unit, which is thought to be "among the 10 busiest in the country," serves more than 11,000 patients from southern Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona and parts of California each year (Gorman, Los Angeles Times, 7/3). UMC "first felt the impact" of rising insurance premiums in March when more than 1,400 staff physicians resigned, citing malpractice premium increases of as much as 300%. The Clark County Commission, which also serves as the UMC hospital board, offered to extend UMC's $50,000 liability cap for damages to physicians who work in the trauma center and emergency room or serve indigent patients. But orthopedic surgeons rejected that offer Monday, citing concerns about the legality of the offer. Dr. Michael Daubs, president of the Nevada Orthopedic Society, said, "[W]e're not looking for Band-Aids here. We need long-term solutions. We need long-term tort reform, and we need to cap liability. We have to solve the overall problems to solve the trauma center problem" (Las Vegas Sun, 7/2).
Without orthopedic surgeons on call, the hospital trauma center was forced to close the entire unit. Dr. John Fildes, the UMC trauma center's medical director, said, "This is a tragedy to our community's public health, the darkest day I can recall. Closing the trauma center means the standard of care that our community has come to rely on is going to be turned back 20 years" (Los Angeles Times, 7/3). The closure comes the day before the July 4th holiday, which is "traditionally a busy time" for emergency rooms. Trauma patients will now be treated at other local hospital emergency rooms or will be transported out of state to the closest trauma centers in Flagstaff, Ariz. or Palm Springs and Loma Linda. According to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center spokesperson Ann Lynch, many area hospitals are "gearing up" in anticipation of an increase in trauma patients with more doctors, nurses and technicians on standby and more blood units and portable X-ray machines "on stock" in their emergency rooms. Still, Fildes said it is "very likely" that some lives will be lost as a result of the closure because trauma patients will have to travel further to receive care (Las Vegas Sun, 7/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.