Originally created 02/19/03

Medical University changes burn treatment



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The Medical University of South Carolina says it will treat all but the most critically injured burn patients.

The university closed the state's only burn unit last summer.

School officials said Monday burn patients will be treated in the hospital's trauma center.

The move is aimed at calming critics who say South Carolina lacks a full burn unit, meaning badly burned patients must be transferred to Augusta, Ga.

MUSC's plan won a key endorsement from Rep. John Graham Altman, R-Charleston, who had been pressing the university to reopen the 10-bed burn unit.

Altman said earlier this month that if discussions didn't go his way, he would introduce an amendment to the state budget requiring the school to reopen the center.

Altman and university officials Monday characterized the discussions as friendly.

MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg met with Altman Friday to discuss the restructuring.

"I don't think it was a question of any sort of ultimatum. We were all trying to reach the same goal," Greenberg said.

"It was all smiles, no muscle," Altman said.

The university's trauma center will coordinate treatment of adult burn patients. Previously, it handled only burn patients who also had other injuries.

Now 90 percent of burn patients will receive their care in the emergency room and in the surgical intensive care unit, the hospital said.

The university isn't hiring a burn specialist, and the move will not require any significant additional costs.

Dr. Fred Crawford, chairman of surgery, said MUSC doesn't receive enough seriously burned patients to support the salary of a burn surgeon.

The university's trauma surgeons should be able to handle most burn patients, Crawford said.

Dr. David Barillo, the university's former burn surgeon, said the changes don't solve the problem of quick access to burn services.

The most severe burn patients, who benefit most by having a burn unit nearby, still must be transferred a long distance, he said.

"I think that either you should make a commitment fully, or you should let another hospital do it," Barillo said.

University officials have said they'd be willing to reopen the unit if the state helped pay for it. In August, MUSC released a report that said South Carolina had enough patients to support a burn center if other hospitals in the state referred patients to such a center. It would cost $7 million, the study concluded.

Before closing, the burn unit handled about 150 patients a month. Since then, the university has been able to handle the vast majority of those patients. Greenberg said only one or two patients a month are transferred to Augusta.