Wisconsin has just two Level I trauma centers, in Milwaukee and Madison, but that could soon change as Marshfield Clinic Health System continues efforts to join the ranks of those medical centers offering the highest level of trauma services.

Heather Rhodes, Ph.D., joined Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in early 2023 as an Associate Research Scientist to design and execute quality research and scholarly activity to meet and exceed the research requirements established for Level I trauma center designation in Marshfield.

Currently a Level II trauma Center, hospitals that are designated a trauma center by state and local authorities are evaluated every three years by the American College of Surgeons, and they are assigned a status based on the services they offer. Level I is the highest designation available. 

“A Level I Trauma Center is capable of providing total care for every aspect of injury, from prevention through rehabilitation,” Rhodes said. “We will use evidence-based medicine with data from our facility to develop protocols to support the needs of the community.”

A trauma center is a hospital that is equipped and staffed to treat the most severe traumatic injuries such as burns, wounds, injuries from car accidents, drownings, and falls, among many others. Level I trauma centers must be capable of providing system leadership and comprehensive trauma care for all injuries. In its central role, a Level I trauma center must have adequate depth and breadth of resources and personnel. In addition to providing acute trauma care, these centers have an important role in local trauma system development, regional disaster planning, increasing capacity, and advancing trauma care through research.

Rhodes has collaborated with clinician investigators and scientists to conduct literature reviews, study feasibility assessment, study design, protocol development, biostatistician involvement and data analysis of trauma projects. She also has promoted and assisted with writing abstracts and developing posters and articles for presentation at professional conferences or publication. The Research Institute developed an American College of Surgeons project tracking system through REDcap that is engaging to clinical investigators, and they are currently developing a data management system that will make it possible to conduct feasibility analyses in real time with concept creation and efficient data analysis towards publication.

Rhodes joined the Health System from Grand Strand Medical Center, part of HCA Healthcare in South Carolina, where she successfully developed a Level 1 trauma research program. She received her double doctorate in Health Science from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

With sufficient patient volumes to qualify, the goal for Marshfield Clinic Health System is to become Level I certified by spring of 2026. The research data management system led by Dr. Rhodes will enable us to look at all of our centers and create a referral funnel to optimize trauma care and increase our total patient volume.  As a rural trauma system, Level I care would be a tremendous resource for patients throughout central and northern Wisconsin.