New trauma center in Salinas could save lives in Big Sur

  • January 9, 2015

By Chris Counts, The Carmel Pine Cone

SALINAS,CA – January 9, 2015 – The announcement this week that Natividad Medical Center has qualified as a trauma center is welcome news for emergency workers in Big Sur, who are often faced with a race against time to help people who have suffered serious accidents and need immediate medical attention. Until now, those in diret need of medical care were airlifted to trauma centers in the San Jose area or south. But now they can be transported to Natividad in Salinas, shaving precious minutes off the air travel time and increasing the odds that medical workers can save their lives. "The quicker patients can access trauma care, the better chances they have of surviving," said Dr. Gary Gray, the chief medical officer at Natividad. In Big Sur — which is infamous for its narrow and winding highway, steep cliffs and treacherous surf — people are often injured in remote and difficult-to-reach places, which only increases response times. Gray told The Pine Cone it is essential to treat victims within "The Golden Hour," when the highest likelihood exists that prompt medical treatment will prevent death. "You want to burn as little of the ‘Golden Hour’ as possible," he explained. Gray said there are other benefits to Natividad being designated as a trauma center , such as the hospital’s proximity to friends and family who live in Monterey County. He also said the designation lowers overall health care costs and keeps money in the county. The trauma designation comes with much responsibility, but Gray said he’s confident his staff can meet the challenges. "I think our trauma team is really second to none," he added. The image of a helicopter lifting off with a patient on board is a familiar sight down the coast, and the news is filled with stories of people who suffered horrific automobile accidents, falls on steep terrain or mishaps in the surf. For those who rush to the scene of an accident to help, it’s a comfort to know those patients will reach their destination sooner and receive the care they require. "Every little bit helps," said Martha Karstens, the chief of the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade, which responds to emergencies down the coast. "The sooner they get [to the hospital], the better. While the designation of a local trauma center makes it possible for critically injured patients from Big Sur to get medical attention sooner, volunteers will continue to work as quickly as they can. "It really doesn’t change anything for us, " Karstens said. "It’ s business as usual."