Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

St. Mary’s closing burn unit on Sept. 1

The only care option for severe burn patients in Tucson as of Sept. 1 will be the Arizona Burn Center in Phoenix.

Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital announced Friday that without a full-time medical director to oversee its burn unit, the hospital will have to close that portion of its Burn and Wound Care Program.

The burn unit opened in 1969 as part of revitalization efforts at St. Mary’s, 1601 W. St. Mary’s Road. It was reorganized in 1996 to include wound care and for the past two years it has functioned as a part-time program while the director of wound care also oversaw burn care.

Carondelet spokeswoman Leticia Ramirez said the wound care portion will continue to operate and may expand.

She said the hospital initially looked at expanding the burn unit into a verified burn program with a full-time burn care medical director and specialized physicians. However, when recruitment failed, the next option was to close the program.

About 41 staff members make up the Burn and Wound Care Program, said St. Mary’s director of patient care services Jennifer Biggs. She said none of their jobs is in jeopardy.

Officials also cited a decreasing patient population – an average of two patients per day – as one of the factors leading to the closure. According to Tucson Citizen archives, in the mid-1990s the burn unit was treating around 500 patients a year.

Once the unit closes, burn patients who might have gone to St. Mary’s will instead be transported to the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center after initially being stabilized at any hospital here, Ramirez said.

Tucson Fire Captain Norm Carlton said there has been a decrease in the number of patients the fire department sends to the hospital, due most likely to increased fire safety education and an increase in fire-safe clothes and products. Tucson Fire paramedics took 35 burn patients who had called 911 to St. Mary’s in 2007. However that number does not include injured firefighters or patients who are injured as part of a fire or traffic incident.

“We understand why they are closing,” Carlton said. “It’s economics.

“Are we sad? Absolutely. Are we concerned? Absolutely.”

University Medical Center trauma director Dr. Peter Rhee said Friday he doesn’t believe St. Mary’s’ move will dramatically affect the trauma center.

“We have traumas that contain burns and we handle those,” he said.

Since he started at UMC one year ago, Rhee said, UMC has transferred two patients to the Arizona Burn Center.

Rhee would like to see UMC start its own burn unit.

“Tucson needs something,” he said. “It would be, by definition, smaller than Phoenix, as we wouldn’t get the volume that they do.

“It would take time.”

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