Community Care


The ambulance bay doors at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen opened. A team wheeled in a gurney, EMS performing chest compressions on the way to the trauma bay. The man had been ejected from his convertible in a rollover wreck — a Level I Trauma case.

The trauma team and trauma surgeon met the gurney, ready to move through a series of lifesaving steps and maneuvers as efficiently as possible. In trauma, there is a “golden hour” — 60 critical minutes where quick, comprehensive care is key to survival. During this time, multidisciplinary teams at the hospital mobilize, operating seamlessly to deliver the necessary treatment that doesn’t end at the trauma bay door.

Before the patient arrived, though, everyone in the trauma center knew what was coming, briefed by EMS en route and alerted by an overhead announcement. Everyone had their roles — all in all, about 15 highly trained medical professionals poised to respond to anything.

“That comes from practice, practice, practice,” said Dr. Hillary Chollet, Valley Baptist’s trauma medical director. “We have an army of specialists along with our administrative team, which is very important for us to be a successful trauma center.”

Some days, there are no Level I Trauma cases. Others days, there are as many as 10. But the team is always ready — a point of pride for the people who make such a level of care possible at Valley Baptist.

“All the work starts before the patient gets here,” said Archie Drake, Valley Baptist COO. “Additionally, we go back and look retrospectively to see that we met all of the standards. There are always opportunities to improve and we learn from every experience that we have so we can be the best for this community.”

The trauma center at Valley Baptist, which has a Level II Trauma designation, serves as the cornerstone of the hospital’s efforts in the community, Drake added. From offering every level of care from admission to outpatient rehabilitation, Valley Baptist also provides trauma prevention resources to Cameron County.

“If I had my way, we’d have no trauma victims,” Drake said.

Chollet agreed.

“Our goal is to put ourselves out of a job so that we’ve prevented car accidents, we’ve made people wear seatbelts, we’ve made people not drink and drive, we’ve made people use little carseats for their babies,” he said. “Our goal is zero percent preventable deaths.”

This sense of community is present in the work every team member performs at Valley Baptist.

“This is the place that treats my family, this is the place that treats my friends, and this is the community we love to serve,” said Jennifer Bartnesky-Smith, chief strategy officer for Valley Baptist. “Our trauma program has truly been a passion area for us. This has been a multiyear journey for us to get to this point. We did that because we knew this was an area that the community needed.”

Valley Baptist’s trauma center is fully equipped to handle nearly every situation — an important advantage during that golden hour. The only cases that must be transported out are patients with significant burns or significant limb replantations.

“It means our community gets to stay in our community,” Drake said.

Stephen Hill, chief nursing officer at Valley Baptist, has witnessed the growth of trauma care in the Rio Grande Valley throughout his 19-year tenure at the hospital.

“It really is truly a team effort,” he said. “Dr. Chollet has done phenomenal, the physicians, nurses it really is a team effort and I’m seeing it come together more and more. The Valley is doing a good job taking care of its own.”

When people go to Valley Baptist, they know that they can expect compassion along with the best medicine has to offer.

“We talk about the fact that we’re a community built on care. We’re a name that folks know and trust here in the community,” Bartnesky-Smith said. “We take great pride in that. We don’t take that for granted one second of any day. We know that everything that we do we’re doing with a heart to serve our community. This is a network of people that are truly driven in our mission to serve every single day.”

Learn more about Valley Baptist Health System, its locations, and all the services offered by visiting