Patty Harker had asked her boyfriend to move out of her home a few weeks earlier. When he showed up that June evening, she said he was angry. And he had a double barrel shotgun with him.
"I didn't think he'd shoot me," Harker said. "I remember something hitting me in the back. Then black went over my eyes." Her ex- had shot her in the back with the shotgun.
Life Net was called to the scene about eight miles west of Oakland, Iowa but couldn't fly because of weather conditions. The first responders found Harker conscious but struggling to breathe. They sedated her, intubated her and started IV and fluids. Concerned that it would take too long to transport her to the Creighton University Medical Center Level I Trauma Center in Omaha, they rushed her to Alegent Creighton Health Mercy Hospital in Council Bluffs—a Level III Trauma Center. Harker was in critical condition.
The team there issued a full trauma alert, calling in the trauma surgeon and the operating room team. She was in severe hemorrhagic shock and had very little blood flow to vital organs. Her blood was pooling in her injured lung. The team started more IV fluids, replaced the blood she'd lost, put in a chest tube and did everything possible to stabilize her. They succeeded and by then it was safe to transport her to Omaha.
"I always think about them," Harker said, appreciating how big a role the Mercy
trauma team played in keeping her alive. "I wasn't expected to survive. I'm lucky to be alive." Harker said the doctors and nurses at both trauma centers helped her get through it all. "I could keep you here for day talking about all the things they did for me," she said.
CUMC gets a lot of attention for its Level I Trauma Center, but physicians and nurses at Mercy Hospital see their share of severe injuries and life-threatening emergencies. In Iowa, an estimated 30-thousand people are rushed to trauma centers for emergency care every year. In southwest Iowa, Mercy Hospital is the place equipped to handle those emergencies. Just last year, Mercy was re-certified as a Level III Area Trauma Care Facility.
"We do an excellent job," said Barbara Roenfeld, operations director of the emergency department. Critically injured patients who require a higher level of care—like Patty Harker—can be treated and stabilized at Mercy if necessary, then transferred to CUMC.
Patients are brought in from every nearby city and town, including Council Bluffs, Crescent, Glenwood, Lewis Township, Minden, Macedonia, Malvern, Neola, Oakland, Tabor and Underwood. The number one cause of trauma is falls, followed by motor vehicle accidents, then ATV and dirt bike accidents.
Since 2001 every hospital in the state is required to be a trauma facility, from a Level I to a Level IV. Mercy is a Level III Area Trauma Care Facility and must have a trauma surgeon on call who can respond within 30 minutes. "Pretty intense care happens here," Roenfeld said. "Our outcomes are excellent and that is due to our competency and teamwork. It's amazing how it all comes together," she said. "We have an awesome team in the ED."
Mercy's trauma center partners with city and county emergency medical services (EMS). "Mercy and EMS have a great working relationship. They know we know what we're doing. They have told us they like our organized approach and they know our outcomes," Roenfeld said. Mercy's trauma staff also provides outreach and holds Trauma Nurse Core Courses (TNCC) several times a year. Other Alegent Creighton Health hospitals, like Lakeside, Bergan Mercy, Immanuel and Midlands are among those who participate. "We provide the education needed to nurses in our system and outside of our system as well," Roenfeld said.
Mercy has the second busiest emergency department in the Alegent Creighton Health system. It's tied with Midlands for the highest rating in patient satisfaction, with both of them earning an impressive 95 percent. Mercy's emergency physicians have the number one highest overall rating though through February 21, 2013.
In March of 2013 Mercy's ED was recognized by the Emergency Department Benchmarking Alliance for having excellent rates for "door to doctor" times. The not-for-profit organization's report said, "The median length of stay for admitted patients at Alegent Creighton Mercy Council Bluffs is as low as any hospital in the survey, and probably as good as any in the nation."