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Montana ranks near the bottom for emergency care

By Jordan Moore, KTVM Reporter, jmoore@ktvm.com
Published On: Jan 20 2014 07:23:13 PM MST
Updated On: Jan 20 2014 08:25:17 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

A new study find Montana ranks second to last when it comes to support for emergency room patients. The rankings come from the American College of Emergency Physicians. The group gave Montana an overall 'D' rating, putting Montana in 48th place.

The report card gives three 'F' ratings in categories like access to emergency care, quality and safety and disaster preparedness. The state was also given a 'D-' for public health health and injury prevention. The only area where Montana scored well was medical liability, with a 'B' grade.

We spoke to Kevin Pitzer, president and CEO of Bozeman Deaconess Hospital, about the ratings. Monday we walked around the newly renovated ER that has a price tag of $15 million.

"We are continually trying to improve quality of care, ensuring higher degrees of patient safety, avoiding preventable harm," said Pitzer.

He explains the work they did aims to care for a population that is growing.

"The reality is we built the facility larger than current demand because we are part of a growing region in Montana, a growing community and urban area," said Pitzer.

They are also addressing some of the issues the report highlights. This state-by-state report specifically points out areas like disaster preparedness and access to emergency care. Pitzer says the new ER is specifically designed to address large disasters.

"Being able to ensure that we are talking care of any type of biohazard that could occur in a very proactive way," said Pitzer.

Pitzer explains Bozeman Deaconess is considered a level III trauma facility.

"The difference between a level III and level II trauma facility is just a couple of key specialties, do you have neurosurgery available 24/7 is probably the biggest defining," said Pitzer.

We found there are only four hospitals with a better trauma facility -- in Great Falls, Billings and Missoula.

Pitzer does add that upgrading the ER has expanded who the hospital can help.

"Bozeman Deaconess continues to become a regional referral center. We are seeing more patients transported to us for that higher level of specialty care," said Pitzer.

However ultimately the rural nature of the state makes it difficult to meet most of the standard listed in the report card.

"The reality of Montana being fairly sparsely populated, most of our hospitals are what are called critical access hospitals with a low level emergency department," said Pitzer.

This includes things like increasing the amount of emergency physicians and emergency departments and getting closer to rural populations.