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Virginia ranks above average for emergency services

By Katie Demeria

Virginia was recently graded for its ability to provide emergency services to its residents -- and it only achieved a C minus.

The American College of Emergency Physicians is a national organization representing emergency physicians. It grades every state based on the "conditions under which emergency care is being delivered," according to an ACEP press release.

While the commonwealth's rating may seem poor, it compares favorably to the United States as a whole, which received a D minus. Virginia ranked 19th in the country.

Dr. John "Jack" Potter of Winchester Medical Center's emergency department said that while the rating seems low, it is meant to act as a wake-up call for the entire country.

"The ACEP is an advocacy group designed to challenge us to do the best we can do," he said. "Virginia scored favorably when compared to the rest of the country, but that only means that as a county we need to work much harder to be better."

Certain areas that received A grades, Potter pointed out, are not as rural as many regions in Virginia. Washington, D.C. received an A, he said, but it has several hospitals, better funding and a smaller area to serve.

"Compare that to rural places, such as the southwest parts of Virginia, and it becomes much more difficult to coordinate emergency plans," he said.

Potter cited poor funding as having a major impact on the ability of many Virginia health systems to serve emergency needs.

Emergency programs used to receive funding from public fees such as those required when renewing license plates. Now, Potter said, a much smaller portion of that money goes toward those departments.

"ACEP is raising awareness of issues like this so we have the opportunity to get better," he said.

Virginia was able to rank above many other states due partly to the number of trauma centers throughout the state, Potter added.

Trauma centers are ranked between one and three, with Level 1 offering the greatest amount of care to patients in immediate danger and Level 3 able to treat emergency patients whose symptoms are less severe.

"We have five Level 1 trauma centers in the state," Potter said. "But there are some other states that have only one or two. That is something that needs to be addressed."

The country's overall rating may have been lowered by those states with large rural areas and only a few trauma centers, he added.

Winchester Medical Center is a Level 2 trauma center, Potter said, and it works closely with the University of Virginia, a Level 1 center.

"We meet with them regularly to talk about how we are doing in treating patients," he said. "And we share resources."

Potter said Valley Health emergency departments work closely with EMS teams in the region to coordinate a system of care in which patients receive the best care as quickly as possible.

Winchester Medical Center sees 200 patients every day, and 25 percent of those are admitted, which is higher than the national average, Potter said.

"And we are very prepared to deal with whatever emergencies we see," he added.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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