CORRECTION: This story incorrectly reported the certification of Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville. It is a Level III trauma center.

In trauma units, the difference between life and death can be a matter of minutes. And if the unexpected should happen, Boulder-area residents now have better emergency medical services than ever, officials say.

Boulder Community Hospital's Emergency and Trauma Services unit at the 1100 Balsam Ave. location has been designated a Level II trauma center, making it the highest-level trauma center in Boulder County.

The distinction, made by the state of Colorado following a review by the Department of Public Health and Environment and the American College of Surgeons, means that area residents have access to resources and specialized care that previously would have required a patient to be transferred to another hospital.

"This was a huge process involving months of preparation and the hundreds of people involved in the trauma program," said Dr. Walter L. Biffl, trauma medical director.

As defined by the state health department, a Level II designation specifies that the hospital is capable of accepting complex and severe trauma patients. Emergency physicians and nurses must immediately be available to treat, operate on and stabilize a patient with a wide availability of specialists, diagnostic capabilities and support equipment.


"The evaluation entails demonstrating extensive resources and services to address any given problem immediately," Biffl said. "When you move from Level III to Level II, everything has to get a lot faster."

Preparing the hospital to handle the infinite potential situations requires an incredible step up in every aspect of the program, and even a single deficiency in the criteria would have failed Boulder Community Hospital's Level II evaluation.

Preparing for everything means that if a patient needs an MRI, the hospital needs to have a technician on call who can perform it. If a someone is losing blood at a dangerous rate, the hospital's blood bank has to respond immediately. If a patient arrives with a severe brain injury, neurosurgeons have to be available to operate within 15 minutes.

Margaret Mohan, trauma program manager for the state health department, said responding paramedics follow protocol, after assessing a trauma patient's medical needs, to decide which level of care they need. Having a Level II hospital in Boulder County means lives are more likely to be saved because emergency medical responders don't have to choose between taking a dying patient to the hospital that's closer and the hospital that has the proper resources to save them.

Boulder Community Hospital spokesman Richard Sheehan said the hospital's motivation for improving its services came from the institution's mission to serve the community. The nonprofit hospital is community-owned and locally governed by a board of directors.

Biffl, who was contracted from Denver Health Center to direct Boulder Community's transition to Level II, said he was amazed to see how hard the hospital worked to meet all the criteria.

"The speed at which we were able to get this done is a testament to this hospital's commitment to better serving the community," he said.

With its new distinction, Boulder Community joins nine other Level II hospitals in Colorado. There are only three Level I trauma centers in the state, all in the Denver area. Previously, the closest Level II trauma center would have been in Denver for southern Boulder County or Loveland for northern Boulder County.

Longmont United Hospital, Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette are Level III trauma centers.

The upgraded trauma center distinction comes a year after Boulder Community earned national certification as a "primary stroke center." Healthgrades rates the hospital's heart attack treatment as the best in Boulder County. Boulder Community is the only medical facility in the county performing open heart surgery.