trauma room

What is a Trauma Center?

What is trauma?

In the case of a trauma center, trauma refers to a serious or critical bodily injury. The most common causes of injury that bring patients to a trauma center are falls and motor vehicle crashes. These events cause life-threatening trauma in multiple areas of the body. Other common causes of injury include burns, gunshot wounds and assaults. 

What is a trauma center?

Trauma center hospitals provide specialized medical services and resources to patients suffering from traumatic injuries. Appropriate treatment has been shown to reduce the likelihood of death or permanent disability to injured patients. Accredited trauma centers must be continuously prepared to treat the most serious life threatening and disabling injuries. Even though trauma centers are within hospitals, they are not intended to replace the traditional hospital and its emergency department for minor injuries. 


The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia developed a video, Inside the Pediatric Trauma Center, which provides an example of the resources available in a Level I Pediatric Trauma Center.

How many levels of trauma centers are there in Pennsylvania?

Trauma centers vary in their specific capabilities and are identified by Level designation. In Pennsylvania there are four levels of trauma centers.

emergency trauma center building
  • Level I trauma centers provide multidisciplinary treatment and specialized resources for trauma patients, require trauma research, and a surgical residency program. 
  • Level II trauma centers provide similar experienced medical services and resources but do not require the research and residency components.
  • Level III trauma centers are smaller community hospitals that have services to care for patients with moderate injuries and the ability to stabilize the severe trauma patient in preparation for transport to a higher-level trauma center. Level III trauma centers do not require neurosurgical resources.
  • Level IV trauma centers can provide initial care and stabilization of traumatic injury while arranging transfer to a higher level of trauma care. 

Hospitals treating adults can be designated Adult Level I-IV Trauma Centers. Hospitals treating children can be designated Pediatric Level I-II Trauma Centers.

How do trauma centers differ from regular hospitals?

The major component that differentiates a regular hospital from one that is a trauma center is the requirement for 24-hour availability of a team of specially trained health care providers who have expertise in the care of severely injured patients. These providers may include trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, cardiac surgeons, radiologists, and nurses. Specialty resources may also include 24-hour availability of a trauma resuscitation area in the emergency department, an operating room, laboratory testing, diagnostic testing, blood bank and pharmacy.

Hospitals who pursue trauma center accreditation must comply with the Standards of Accreditation. An aggressive trauma care accreditation process is required to assure trauma care is delivered according to established standards of care. 

Who accredits Trauma Centers in Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation (PTSF) is a non-profit corporation recognized by the Emergency Medical Services Act (Act 1985-45). The PTSF is the organization responsible for accrediting trauma centers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It has been accrediting applicant hospitals since May of 1986. PTSF also has a vital role in trauma system development and integration. 

What is a trauma system?

Research shows that in states where there is a trauma system in place, the death rate is drastically reduced. A trauma system, unlike a trauma center, involves the integration of many additional services including Emergency Medical Services (EMS), rehabilitation facilities and trauma prevention organizations.