It took three separate trauma-care centers in three different counties to handle nine of the 13 students injured in Wednesday’s SUV accident at Ralston Middle School in Belmont, raising questions about the ability of regional hospital to handle a larger disaster.
While most hospitals in San Mateo County have emergency rooms, none have acute trauma-care centers — facilities prepared to deal with serious head, chest or abdominal wounds.
When county residents sustain serious injuries, the closesttrauma center north of Millbrae Avenue is San Francisco General Hospital. Those to the south are rushed to Stanford Medical Center, said county Supervisor Jerry Hill, president of the San Mateo County General Hospital Board.
But Wednesday, when driver Mauro Yan drove his Honda Pilot into a crowd of middle-school students, nine needed acute care. Stanford, which had already seen 10 trauma patients that day, could only take four, said hospital spokeswoman Jonnie Banks. It forced four of the victims to S.F. General, while the last victim was airlifted to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.
The four of the 13 that were not in need of acute care and had only minor injuries were taken to local hospitals.
“We maxed out S.F. General and maxed out Stanford,” said Doug Fry, chief of the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department. “When we critique this [incident], that will probably be part of the discussion.”
Stanford has a limit of four trauma-care patients at a time, said trauma program manager Janet Neff. S.F. General, which often sees numerous gunshot victims each weekend, has no limit, said hospital trauma program manager Andre Campbell.
San Mateo County doesn’t qualify for a trauma center because it doesn’t see enough traumatic injuries to keep neurosurgeons and other specialists on hand in local hospitals, Hill said.
Compounding the issue is the fact that paramedics could only get eight ambulances to Belmont immediately, straining the emergency-response system.
The student who went to Eden was airlifted in part because no additional ground transportation was available, said Barbara Pletz, administrator for San Mateo County’s emergency medical services.
Many local officials agreed that if 13 injured students taxed the system, a major disaster would bring even more strain.
“Suppose we had a major earthquake. We might have as many as 20,000 people in the Bay Area needing hospitalization, and if there’s no room, we’re going to be in trouble,” said Sequoia Healthcare District board member Don Horsley, former San Mateo County sheriff.