Washington Hospital Center, which often uses helicopters to scoop up accident victims and rush them to its shock-trauma unit, recently sent two choppers on another sensitive mission -- to pick up five Maryland legislators and rush them to a luncheon and shock-trauma tour.
The helicopter jaunt from Annapolis to the hospital's door in Northwest Washington, worth about $1,800, marked the latest round in the center's battle with the University of Maryland's shock-trauma unit in Baltimore over where critically ill victims should be flown from Maryland accident scenes.
"You could call it trauma wars," said Del. Timothy Maloney (D-Prince George's), who attended the luncheon and tour on Aug. 28 but did not take the air transportation. "I have no doubt that as a result of this we'll be asked to take a helicopter ride to the Baltimore shock-trauma unit."
The long-simmering dispute between the two institutions erupted in public in March during legislative hearings on a bill to empower the director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, which runs the Baltimore shock-trauma unit, to draw up rules for emergency medical helicopter operations.
Under current procedures, accident victims from the Maryland suburbs near the District are taken to Prince George's General Hospital or Suburban Hospital, according to Dr. Alasdair Conn, medical director for the institute. If those units are filled, victims are taken to Washington Hospital Center, he said. Hospital Center officials opposed the bill, fearing that rules would be written to keep such patients in Maryland, rather than getting them to the best and closest facility, which they said was often their own.
To press their point, the hospital's parent corporation, Washington Health Care Management Corp., hired Bruce Bereano, the highest-paid lobbyist during last year's General Assembly session. Bereano said the bill that ultimately passed the legislature was "completely denuded." Conn disagreed, saying the legislation "wasn't as we originally drafted it, but I think it fulfilled our requirements."
Bereano intends to be back representing the center in 1985, and he said the helicopter trip and tour were his idea.
"I wanted the legislators to get a feel for the time in flight and physically see the proximity of the Hospital Center to the Capital Beltway," Bereano said. "I have absolutely no idea of the cost. I didn't even ask."
The flight that started from a helipad atop a state office building and ended there four hours later was worth about $1,800, according to Cheeree Cleghorn, the corporation's vice president for public affairs. However, the two choppers were donated for use by U.S. Jet, the company that leases the huge Medstar helicopter to the hospital to transport accident victims, according to Cleghorn.
The passengers, according to those present, included state Sen. Thomas Bromwell (D-Baltimore County) and Dels. Paula Hollinger (D-Baltimore) Lawrence LaMotte (D-Carroll County), Eileen Rehrmann (D-Harford) and Robert Neall (R-Anne Arundel), the House minority leader. All are members of committees that will review legislation critical to the Hospital Center, including a bill for at least $35 million in state funds to renovate the Baltimore shock-trauma unit.
Hollinger pronounced it "one of the most fruitful" trips she had taken as a legislator, saying it gave her a firsthand look at the center's operations. "Obviously, it was a lobbying tool," she said. "But I have no quarrel with it."