South Texas Health System McAllen announced in November 2022 that the facility has been designated a Level I Trauma Center by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) following verification by the American College of Surgeons (ASC). This type of designation is major news for the Rio Grande Valley, an area with a population of about 1.3 million. STHS McAllen is the second trauma center in the region to receive this designation.
In order for a trauma center to receive this status, it must meet specific criteria set by the ACS. This includes: providing the highest level of surgical care to trauma patients, having a range of specialists and equipment available 24/7, and admitting a minimum of 1,200 trauma patients annually.
Every health system in Texas must submit paperwork to the ASC, and then file it with the DSHS. The license is renewed every three years if the criteria are still met.
“We are just raising the bar for our communities within the Valley,” said Todd Mann, STHS McAllen CEO. “We understand it’s difficult to leave for care. It has been our journey to always make sure that our residents can seek care within the Valley and not be sent to Houston or San Antonio.”
Altogether, the South Texas Health System Trauma & Critical Care Institute is comprised of 10 emergency rooms, including six freestanding emergency rooms, that are all stroke and chest pain accredited in some capacity. STHS also has the only pediatric ER in the area — at STHS Children’s in Edinburg — and the only cardiac emergency room — at STHS Heart in McAllen.
“There is no other region, other than Houston, that would have this much of a comprehensive emergency care platform,” Mann said.
There are only 21 Level 1 Trauma Centers in Texas. San Antonio, Houston, and Fort Worth each have only one.
“The importance of Level 1 is that we have 24/7 surgical for critical care and are the only hospital in the area with a double-boarded surgeon on call when a patient arrives from an accident,” said STHS McAllen Department of Surgery Chairman Dr. Carlos Palacio. “This also means that there is no reason a patient should leave the Valley for trauma care. Every patient should be able to receive the care they need for their injuries here in the Valley.”
According to Dr. Palacio, the most frequent types of trauma patients seen at STHS McAllen are those involved in vehicle and motorcycle accidents and auto-pedestrian accidents.
Patients that present major brain injuries — in which time is especially critical — can be cared for as they arrive because the facility has neurosurgeons, as well as other specialty surgeons, including vascular, thoracic, and orthopedic, on call 24/7, and the team at STHS is working on bringing in more subspecialty surgeons.
“The life-saving capabilities we have in the Valley now are immense,” Mann said. “We’re very proud of this accomplishment and continue to press forward on other programs and service lines.”