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August 4, 2015

ThedaCare level II Trauma Center Celebrates 25 Years of Service to the Community

The Level II Trauma Center at Theda Clark Medical Center officially marks its 25th anniversary of serving the region in August 2015. This state-of-the-art trauma center started with a simple phone call in the fall of 1989 when Dr. Dan Thearle, a general surgeon, contacted Dr. Ray Georgen to create a trauma center in the Fox Valley.

The Trauma Center at Theda Clark Medical Center is the Longest Continuously Verified Level II Trauma Center in Northeast Wisconsin

The Level II Trauma Center at Theda Clark Medical Center officially marks its 25th anniversary of serving the region in August 2015. This state-of-the-art trauma center started with a simple phone call in the fall of 1989 when Dr. Dan Thearle, a general surgeon, contacted Dr. Ray Georgen to create a trauma center in the Fox Valley.

“Dr. Thearle had a vision for bringing a higher level of trauma care to this part of the state,” recalled Dr. Georgen, Trauma Center medical director. “It has been quite a journey to bring that vision to reality, but we now have one of the best programs in the country.”

The Trauma Center at Theda Clark was the third Trauma Center to be verified by the American College of Surgeons in Wisconsin, and the first Trauma Center outside of Milwaukee and Madison. Theda Clark was also the first Level II Trauma Center in the state.  

In trauma, time is of the essence for optimal patient outcomes, so having a quality trauma center locally accessible is such an important resource for the community. “ThedaCare excels in having a wealth of trauma-trained specialty talent ready 24/7 to treat complex life-threatening injuries,” said Dr. Georgen.

Dr. Georgen said one of the first challenges he faced was understanding the rural landscape that surrounds the Fox Cities. “In the early days of the program, transport times were prolonged. Now with trauma education occurring at our rural hospitals and the use of ThedaStar Air Medical, patients arrive sooner which improves their ultimate outcome.

“With 60 miles or more in each direction, we often didn’t have that critical golden hour to begin treatment, so we began to focus on being very efficient in house,” he continued.” It’s rare that a trauma victim has just one injury, so we approached multiple-injury trauma by calling a Trauma Blue, which alerts and gathers our multi-disciplinary trauma team. Working together as one unit, our team comes together to provide the needed skills and assessments to stabilize patients and provide definitive care.”

And it worked. National data comparisons show that the Trauma Center at Theda Clark treats sicker patients on average than most trauma centers in the country and still maintains better outcomes than the national average.

Dr. Georgen also noted the importance of ThedaStar Air Medical to transport and transfer trauma patients in the area. “The ability to access air transport 24 hours/day has greatly improved our ability to begin treating patients faster. The service is staffed by highly trained flight nurses, paramedics, pilots, mechanics and dispatchers – all working together to provide care when you need it most.”

But Dr. Georgen and his team saw another need to help Wisconsin improve trauma care. “The organization of state trauma care was woeful throughout the state,” he remembered. “We needed clarity to assess how best to serve trauma patients, getting them to the right kind of care as quickly as possible. I became a member of an Advisory Council to create the Wisconsin State Trauma Plan in 2000. That plan created a tiered trauma system, differentiating the various centers at different hospitals to help get the patients the right level of care.”

Today Wisconsin's statewide trauma care system reduces death and disability resulting from traumatic injury by decreasing the incidence of trauma, providing optimal care of trauma patients and their families, and collecting and analyzing trauma-related data. Dr. Georgen said that former President of the Wisconsin State Senate (now retired) Mike Ellis was instrumental in helping to create and pass a plan that helped everyone get the trauma care they needed. “He kept saying – do what’s right for patient care. That’s always the right answer. And he was right. That plan was a paradigm change for our state and raised the bar for care everywhere.”

Ellis said, “The Trauma Center at Theda Clark is one of the premiere operations in the country. We who live here in this part of the state are lucky to have ThedaCare and Theda Clark in our community.”

Dr. Georgen said his team now focuses on continual improvement, outreach and prevention. “We know that trauma is the #1 killer for people under 40, so we want to reach young people early to help them understand how important it is to make good decisions. Our P.A.R.T.Y (Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth) at the PAC program reaches out to high school students (most just learning to drive) to show them what happens when they make bad decisions. Survivors share their powerful stories. And it really seems to resonate with the students. To date, we’ve touched more than 40,000 students. The program has been so successful that we’re sharing it with other healthcare organizations around the state. If it saves just one life, if just one student makes a good decision instead of a bad one, we know we made a difference.”

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 35 clinics in 14 counties. It is the first health care organization in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with Northeast Wisconsin’s only level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.  Construction of ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton and ThedaCare Medical Center – Shawano is underway. For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.