In the face of criticism that he wants to rob other hospitals of emergency patients, the man who runs the Maryland Shock Trauma Center said yesterday that he was giving up day-to-day control of the state's network of rescue personnel and emergency rooms.
Dr. Kimball I. Maull called a news conference to announce that he was making Dr. Richard L. Alcorta, an emergency room
physician from Bethesda's Suburban Hospital, the acting director of the state's emergency medical system.
A nationwide search for a permanent director will begin soon, Dr. Maull said.
Dr. Maull remains in charge of the umbrella organization that includes Shock Trauma and the emergency system -- and thus will supervise Dr. Alcorta. But Dr. Maull said his new appointee will have a free hand to run the emergency system independently, ensuring that patients are taken to the closest trauma center or the one best suited to their needs.
Dr. Maull appeared intent on dispelling charges that his decision earlier this year to take direct control over the emergency medical system was ever meant to be permanent. Nor, he said, was it was part of an attempt to steer injured patients to Shock Trauma or the University of Maryland Medical Center to fatten their coffers.
"Let's be frank," he said. "What we're talking about is a perception, not a fact, with respect to the conflict of interest."
Of the new appointment, he said, "Dr. Alcorta will be independent. He will make decisions in the context of what's best for the patient."
In another move, Dr. Maull announced that he was appointing Dr. Alex Haller, chief of the pediatric trauma center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, to direct children's programs for the emergency medical system. Dr. Haller's job will be to upgrade emergency care for children throughout the state.
The announcements came after three stormy weeks that included Dr. Maull's firing of three Shock Trauma physicians, the filing of a$6 million lawsuit by a chief neurosurgeon who claims he is being pushed aside, and the consolidation of major trauma care at Shock Trauma and the university hospital.
In July, Shock Trauma's mission was expanded. Aside from treating major trauma cases from across the state, it also began receiving West Baltimore patients with gunshot and knife wounds who previously would have gone to the emergency room of the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Some critics have charged that Shock Trauma also is receiving patients with minor injuries, a charge that Dr. Maull has denied. In his lawsuit, neurosurgeon Clark Watts said a patient with a minor finger injury recently occupied a bed at Shock Trauma.
Yesterday, Dr. Maull seemed taken off guard when asked about the charge. He said couldn't respond because he knew nothing about the case. He has insisted the consolidation is meant to eliminate a duplication of services between two emergency services 100 yards apart, and to give seriously injured patients from the surrounding neighborhood the benefit of Shock Trauma's expertise.
Dr. Maull assumed the leadership in February of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, the umbrella group that runs both Shock Trauma and the statewide network of rescue personnel and emergency rooms. He said yesterday that he never intended to retain day-to-day control over the emergency medical system, but wanted to size up the system's needs before naming even an acting director.
Dr. Timothy Buchman, president of a state organization of trauma hospitals, said he applauded the appointment of Dr. Alcorta but would wait to see if the emergency medical system remained truly independent.