The American Burn Association has notified St. Joseph Hospital that it will not renew verification of St. Joe's burn unit, hospital officials said Friday.
In a letter to St. Joe board members, doctors and staff, CEO Karen Fordham said the burn unit's verification had been under review since summer 2017.
Hospital officials have been addressing issues brought up by the American Burn Association last summer, Fordham said.
The association cited a lack of adequate surgeons and other caregivers as the reason for its decision, she said in the letter.
“Since last summer, we have been working with our dedicated burn center employees and physicians as we developed and implemented improvement plans,” Fordham said. “It is unfortunate the ABA did not allow us an opportunity to discuss these issues before making its decision.”
The burn center can and will continue to operate without the verification. According to Fordham, about half the country's burn centers don't have American Burn Association verification.
Eric Clabaugh, spokesman for rival Parkview Health, said the local health care provider has no plans to create its own burn unit but will continue to monitor the community's needs.
When patients are admitted to Parkview with minor burns, they can often be treated at Parkview Randallia's wound center, Clabaugh said. Patients with more extensive burns are transported to Parkview partner hospitals that have American Burn Association verified burn centers, he said.
Those partners include hospitals in Indianapolis and out of state.
Parkview and Lutheran Health Network officials differ on the amount of emphasis they place on having the American Burn Association's seal of approval. St. Joe is part of Lutheran's network.
Parkview would not transfer a patient to a burn center without that verification, Clabaugh said.
Lutheran Health Network officials don't expect the change in verification status to affect patients at all, including health insurance coverage, spokesman Geoff Thomas said.
“During its first 25 years of operation, the burn center at St. Joe established itself as the region's provider of this specialized care without ABA verification,” Thomas said in an email. “Regardless of our verification status today, Lutheran Health Network continues to provide the most advanced burn care available in northern Indiana and we are working to enhance these important services.”
Lutheran officials believe their services offer northeast Indiana patients a unique advantage.
“For the patients whose recovery also includes regular visits to our outpatient burn and wound clinic, a major aspect of our holistic approach to healing is keeping them close to home,” Thomas said.
“Allowing family, friends and other members of a patient's support system to more easily fulfill these vital roles without the burdens associated with major travel is best for the patient and a significant point of emphasis for LHN,” he wrote.
The American Burn Association partners with the American College of Surgeons to offer the verification program, which certifies that a burn center meets the highest standards of care.
“Caring for severely injured burned patients requires specialty training, a cohesive, comprehensive multidisciplinary team and dedicated resources to provide the highest level of care and best outcomes for the patient,” the American Burn Association said in a statement provided to The Journal Gazette.
The verification program includes “a rigorous review process” to ensure burn centers have all resources they need to provide exemplary care.
“To achieve verification, a burn center must meet standards for organizational structure, injury prevention and education, qualifications and training of personnel, facilities and resources,” the statement said.
Two experienced burn surgeons visit facilities applying for verification. Their report supplements information supplied by the facility. The renewal process is every three years.
“Undergoing this robust review process and achieving verification indicates to patients, government and third-party payers that an institution provides high quality care throughout the spectrum of recovery from a burn injury,” the statement said.
Earlier this month, CEO Mike Poore told The Journal Gazette that Lutheran Health Network's proposed downtown hospital might not include a verified burn unit.
He said the network's commitment to caring for victims of serious burns might mean creating a verified burn unit at Lutheran Hospital instead of including one in the hospital that is slated to replace St. Joe.
St. Joe's burn center has been an important resource for the region's manufacturing base. Factory employees have a higher risk of serious burns than other workers, according to federal workplace injury data.
Thomas said that, as of Friday, no decision had been made about moving the burn center out of St. Joe Hospital.
Lutheran Health Network officials, he said, “will continue to evaluate and work toward the best way to provide these services for our community.”