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Workplace, auto accident injuries have diminished over the years

Emergency medicine in Southern Oregon in 2003 reflects many of the changes that have transformed the region and the nation during the past 30 years.

Workplace injuries have declined, for example, as the county's share of hazardous jobs has shrunk.

Years ago we saw lots of logging accidents and injured millworkers, said Dr. Chris Garrard, a 26-year veteran of the emergency room at Providence Medford Medical Center. Those injuries dropped off dramatically as the logging industry declined, mills closed and worker safety acquired higher priority.

There were fewer auto accidents back when roads were less crowded, but injuries were worse because there was no safety equipment, said Gordon Everett, director of emergency services at Providence Medford.

Early in my career, a rollover (accident) was a death sentence, said Everett, a nurse for 21 years. Now in a rollover, sometimes they don't even have a scratch.

— Seat belts and shoulder belts get the credit, Everett said. Drivers who buckle up get bounced around inside a car, instead of being thrown from it. If you wear a seat belt, you walk away from an accident a pretty high percentage of the time.

Everett said helmet laws for bicyclists and motorcyclists have reduced the number of fatalities and disabling injuries.

Patients' relationships with physicians have changed, too, said Terri Polyniak, a nurse for 24 years.

When I started, the majority of patients had a personal physician, she said. Those doctors would come to see their patients in the ER. Now those doctors are so busy in their offices that they can't come to see their patients.

The relationship between doctors and their patients isn't what it used to be.

Doctors and nurses have more sophisticated tools to diagnose their patients' problems. Automatic blood pressure cuffs and blood-oxygen monitors give them instant data about a patient's condition. MRIs provide more revealing images of the body than X-rays.

All the technology gives us lots more information than we had in the past, Polyniak said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail