UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies becomes northern Colorado’s first Level I Trauma Center 

Patients and community now have access to the highest quality and most advanced trauma care north of Denver 
July 18, 2022
A photo of Medical Center of the Rockies.
UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies is the first and only hospital in northern Colorado with a Level I trauma center. Photos: Sonya Doctorian, UCHealth.

UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies becomes northern Colorado’s first Level I Trauma Center 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has designated UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies (MCR) as a Level I Trauma Center, making it the first and only hospital in northern Colorado with the highest classification for adult trauma care. 

Level I recognizes the hospital can treat severe and complex injuries, giving residents of northern Colorado rapid access to top-level emergency and trauma care without a trip to metro Denver. The state finalized the designation on July 14 after a trauma designation survey that followed nearly two decades of building services to support an advanced trauma care program to serve the region. 

“Not only is this a great achievement for our hospital, but it’s also great news for our patients and our community,” said Kevin Unger, MCR’s president and CEO. “For years, we have been delivering a very high level of trauma care. This designation officially recognizes us for that excellence and sets us on a path of continued progress.” 

A photo of UCHealth's LifeLine helicopter
UCHealth’s LifeLine helicopters transport patients throughout Colorado and beyond.

Hospital trauma designations are determined according to varying criteria, including surgical resources and patient volumes. Key elements required to be a Level I trauma center include around-the-clock coverage by trauma surgeons and prompt availability of specialists in orthopedics, neurosurgery and anesthesiology, among others. Such facilities also must be leaders in trauma prevention and education, conduct research and meet volume requirements for treating severely injured patients.  

In 2021, MCR provided care to 1,853 patients who met trauma registry inclusion criteria. This was more than double the 880 trauma patients who were cared for when the hospital opened in 2007. The majority of trauma cases involve blunt injuries that are often the result of incidents such as falls, motor vehicle crashes and pedestrians or bicyclists hit by vehicles. MCR also serves as a regional referral destination for patients from dozens of hospitals in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.  

Samantha Poirer, a LifeLine pilot, at the controls of a UCHealth medical transport helicopter.
Samantha Poirer, a LifeLine pilot, at the controls of a UCHealth medical transport helicopter.

“It truly takes a village to care for a patient, especially our most critically injured patients,” said Dr. Warren Dorlac, the hospital’s trauma medical director. “It starts with EMS and law enforcement in the field. Then at the hospital, it’s the nurses, doctors and technicians. It’s also everyone in the laboratory, radiology, pharmacy, the operating room, the intensive care unit, nutrition, environmental services, therapists and everyone in between.”

For many years, Colorado’s only Level I trauma centers were located in the metro Denver region, and northern Colorado patients with the most severe injuries had to fly to Denver for care.  

“This highest level of trauma care means our most critically injured patients stay closer to home and their families can more easily stay or visit them,” said Dr. Dorlac added. 

The next step for the trauma program is to pursue national certification with the American College of Surgeons. 

Leann Krayenhagen is a certified nurse anesthetist who responded to countless traumas when she worked at MCR. In 2017, though, she found herself on the other side of a trauma – as a patient. She was critically injured when the motorcycle she was driving collided with a truck in the Poudre Canyon, west of Fort Collins. By chance, there was an MCR physician and a critical care nurse in the cars behind the crash who were able to provide prompt care on-scene and call for help. She was flown to MCR, where she was pumped with numerous units of blood and taken into surgery.  

Dr. Michael Rusnak performs surgery at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies, recently named a Level I Trauma Center.

“I think all these pieces of the puzzle had to be there. If there was one piece that was missing, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “I knew I was in the best place. I knew I was in the best hands.” 

With this latest designation, half of the state’s six Level I trauma centers are UCHealth facilities. This is a great testament to UCHealth’s commitment to providing advanced care throughout Colorado, Unger added. UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central and UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital are also Level I Trauma Centers. 

MCR is certified by The Joint Commission as a Primary Stroke Center, a classification awarded to programs that have the staff, resources and processes in place to deliver fast, advanced care to stroke patients. In 2020, Fortune/IBM Watson Health named the hospital as a 100 Top Hospital. In 2021, U.S. News & World Report ranked the hospital as the No. 2 hospital in Colorado and recognized it as a high performer for abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, heart attack, aortic valve surgery, heart bypass surgery, heart failure, transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), maternity care, kidney failure, back surgery (neuro and orthopedics), stroke, hip fracture, hip replacement, pneumonia and urology. 

About the author

Kelly Tracer is a media relations specialist at UCHealth, based in northern Colorado. For nearly 20 years, she worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and designer before diving into the world of health care communications.

She believes there is an amazing story inside everyone and considers it an honor to get to meet and work with so many extraordinary people – patients, families, providers, volunteers and staff – every day. She is also fascinated by health care innovation and programs that empower and inspire people and families to live healthier lives.

A native of Nebraska, Kelly received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She and her husband have two children and enjoy paddle boarding all summer and skiing all winter.