Low patient volume among reasons Huntsville Hospital has no burn unit

Published: Oct. 21, 2014 at 9:40 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 18, 2014 at 10:40 PM CST
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Burr Ingram with Huntsville Hospital said hospitals serve what the demographic of the community...
Burr Ingram with Huntsville Hospital said hospitals serve what the demographic of the community dictates. (Source: WAFF)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - In the last 24 hours, two people have been flown from the North Alabama area to burn units out of the area. The first, a 5-year-old burned by gasoline Monday, was flown to Cincinnati for treatment. The second was a man taken to UAB after a house fire in Muscle Shoals - a fire which killed another person.

Cases of fire injuries where people are airlifted to the University of Alabama in Birmingham begged the question: Why doesn't Huntsville Hospital, as the level one trauma center for North Alabama, not have a burn unit?

Huntsville Hospital officials had a simple answer. North Alabama doesn't have the volume of burn patients in the area, nor the expertise at the hospital, to justify the investment it would take to start and sustain a top of the line burn unit.

Huntsville Hospital transfers two kinds of patients to UAB: those suffering from severe burns, or those needing an organ transplant.

UAB serves as the burn unit for the entire state, so it's not just North Alabama patients getting airlifted there. UAB also has the experts and the resources to handle long term care which burn patients will certainly need.

"There's no reason for a smaller center to say, 'We want to be that,' when the numbers don't say it and the quality of care," said Huntsville Hospital Communications Director Burr Ingram. "Patients in the region would probably say, 'I want to go where the care is the best. If the best is 30 minutes down the road in a helicopter or in an ambulance that's where I want to be.'"

What Huntsville Hospital does excel in is treating cardiac illnesses and things like diabetes.

Ingram said hospitals serve what the demographic of the community dictates.

However, being air-lifted takes time, and time is of the essence when saving a life.

Ingram added that time is important, but what is also important is having the right care when you get to the hospital.

"We do take care of a lot of trauma but it's not an issue of trauma care, it's the long term care needed to take care of a burn patient so you need to get them where they need to be on the first trip. The transportation is rapid. It's about the availability of care and the right care and the right people who have a lot of experience at it when you get there. We trust the burn center at UAB," said Ingram.

There are only about 120 burn centers in the United States.

Mississippi and South Carolina don't have burn units in their states.

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