Penrose-St, Francis has jumped into the push for a Level 1 Trauma Center in Colorado Springs.
The move follows by about a month a similar announcement by Memorial Hospital, the city's other major health care system.
As a result, the city could go from having no Level 1 care to two major hospitals providing the highest level of surgical care for trauma patients. Penrose Hospital and Memorial are Level 2 providers.
However, that will depend on the number of serious trauma cases in the area, one of the criteria considered by the state for the certification, said Randy Kuykendall, interim director for Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
"Level 1 Trauma Centers are the only ones that have a volume criteria," he said. "You have to do a lot of it to be good at it."
That number is 400 cases a year, he said.
Until the reviews are completed, he declined to comment on whether both hospitals could get the certification.
The process takes six to 10 months after an application is completed, he said. The letter of intent is just the first step.
For rural areas and southern Colorado, a Level 1 center in Colorado Springs could mean the difference between life and death for trauma patients with the most serious injuries, officials say. That includes communities such as Pueblo, Woodland Park, Peyton, Calhan, Trinidad and Alamosa.
"It saves part of that golden hour," said Penrose spokesman Chris Valentine. "That's the 60 minutes to have a better chance of a good outcome. We're reaching into Southern Colorado further and further."
Patients needing Level 1 care now are transported to Denver area hospitals, including Denver Health Medical Center, Denver; Swedish Medical Center, Englewood; St. Anthony Hospital, Lakewood; and Children's Hospital Colorado, Aurora, which offers trauma care for children only.
Having Level 1 centers closer "improves survival rates," said Ted Sayer, general manager for American Medical Response, the area's main ambulance service provider. "It raises the care within the community and we're always glad to see an improvement with the level of care."
Penrose's decision to submit a letter of intent to the state for Level 1 certification for Penrose Hospital was not influenced by Memorial's announcement, said Margaret Sabin, president and CEO of Penrose-St. Francis.
Penrose began looking at the certification about a year ago, but its parent company, Centura Health, has been involved in advanced trauma care for much longer.
"It has been a part of our tradition," Sabin said. "Five years ago with Centura we made a decision to be an integrated system of care for trauma. Trauma is our DNA."
Sabin is Centura's trauma system leader. St. Anthony, a Level 1 Trauma Center, is owned by Centura.
From Level 2 to Level 1 is not a big jump, Sabin said.
"Once you are a Level 2, you've got 90 percent of what you need in place for a Level 1," she said.
Among differences, Level 1 centers have more resources and in-house staff such as neurosurgeons who must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At a Level 2 facility, those specialists have to be on call.
"When the trauma walks through the door, the neurosurgeon is right there," Valentine said.
Penrose has seen a 5 percent increase in its trauma care market the last two years, Sabin said.
The certification, she added, would have a ripple effect on the rest of Penrose's services, already ranked in the top 1 percent in the United States, according to Healthgrades America's 50 Best Hospitals.
Level 1 status also attracts physicians and nurses.
"It's called the halo effect," Sabin said. "It raises the bar across the board."