The Tucson area may need as many three more midlevel trauma centers to treat seriously injured patients in coming years, University Medical Center's chief trauma surgeon said Wednesday.
Tucson has only one trauma center — the Level 1 center at UMC — and it's meeting the current needs of the community, according to the findings of a Trauma System Executive Committee commissioned by Mayor Bob Walkup.
Still, there's room for improvement, said Dr. Peter Rhee, UMC's director of trauma and critical care.
"I think we're on the right track, but we have a long way to go to the finish," Rhee said.
Rhee announced the report's findings at UMC's new trauma center and emergency department scheduled to open June 16.
Rhee said the growing population and preparations for a mass casualty event — when many people are hurt — will require a coordinated system across Southern Arizona.
That means the addition of three Level 3 centers — though not another Level 1 center. According to the report, an additional Level 1 center would be "detrimental" because of limited resources.
The first Level 3 trauma center in Southern Arizona is being planned for University Physicians Healthcare Hospital at Kino Campus and could open by summer 2011, Rhee said.
Trauma centers range from Level 4 — which stabilize patients and treat less serious injuries — to Level 1, where trauma surgeons treat the most seriously injured patients.
Paying for the new trauma centers will present a challenge, Rhee said. Currently, there is no public funding from the local, county or state level to support trauma, according to the report.
Rhee said the care, as a public health issue, will require public funding.
Some states get money from drunken-driving fines, speeding tickets or vehicle registration to pay for trauma care. Rhee said it may take money from an increased sales tax to fund trauma care.
When people call 911, they're not thinking about what trauma care costs, but the money has to come from somewhere, Rhee said.
Additional trauma centers may eventually go on the Northwest and Southwest sides of town, said Tucson Fire Department Assistant Chief Dave Ridings.
When it comes to trauma care, the main concerns of first responders are the geographical challenges of getting injured patients where they need to and handling situations when many people are seriously injured at the same time, said Ridings, who participated in the trauma committee.
"What we'd like to see is a hub-and-spoke-type method," Ridings said.
UMC's Level 1 center would be the main hub of the system, and additional lower-level centers along transportation corridors would be the treatment spokes, he said.
Walkup said he convened the panel when Tucson Medical Center withdrew its support for primary trauma care, leaving UMC as the only Level 1 center in Southern Arizona.
TMC closed its Level 1 center in 2003.
The priority became "making sure people get to the right place at the right time," he said.