MUSC Health Burn Center high performing in quality and survival outcomes

April 01, 2022
Dr. Stephen Kahn raises the right arm of Tommy Porcha to examine Porcha's burns.
Dr. Stephen Kahn, chief of burn surgery, examines patient Tommy Porcha's arm. Porcha was helping a friend burn some old logs when the fire led to an explosion. Photo by Sarah Pack

Less than two years after its opening, the South Carolina Burn Center at MUSC Health has achieved exemplary performance in a key category. “It was the highest performer in the U.S. for quality and survival outcomes in the most recent quarter of data,” said the center’s chief of burn surgery, Steven Kahn, M.D.

“The data shows that our survival rates and outcomes are much better than expected compared to national averages.”

The remarkable performance data is derived from a national benchmarking database, which describes itself as “the country’s leading health care performance improvement company.”

Kahn credits his team’s multidisciplinary approach to care for its success in treating complex burn wounds that require delicate and skilled treatment. “We have not only physicians, but a whole team of burn care experts who are dedicated to burn care - that's really what gets our patients well,” he said.

“We have a psychologist, physical and occupational therapists who specialize in burns, nurses with special training, dieticians and pharmacists who focus on burns. We also have team members who have additional specialization in pediatric patients.”

Kahn said there are more than 1,000 people in South Carolina each year who need inpatient burn care. MUSC Health has the only inpatient burn care center in the state. 

“We have enough patient volume to have allowed us to really optimize our processes, but are not so large that we have lost our patient- and family-centered approach to care. We think of every burn survivor we meet not as just a patient, but as part of our family. Before we reopened the adult portion of the burn center, adult South Carolinians had to go to Georgia or North Carolina for inpatient burn care.”

MUSC Health’s previous adult burn care center closed about two decades ago due to a lack of resources. Doctors continued to treat burned children in what has become the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. As Kahn noted, adults who needed inpatient care had to go out of state to get it. 

But South Carolina lawmakers pushed to change that, calling for money to help fund a new adult burn center at MUSC Health. Their efforts helped lead to the current comprehensive burn center, which treats inpatients of all ages. 

Members of the burn team prepping the hydrotherapy room. Left to right: Jordan Kudiak RN, Laura Sweet, RN, Matthew Jalbert PCT, Brianna Komcek, RN, Amanda Geiter PA-C. 
From left, nurse Jordan Kudiak, nurse Laura Sweet, patient care technician Matthew Jalbert, nurse Brianna Komcek and physician assistant Amanda Geiter prepare the hydrotherapy room. Photo provided

Under the leadership of Kahn, who was recruited to lead the center, the South Carolina Burn Center at MUSC Health almost immediately made news by doing the country’s first successful minimally invasive skin graft on a burn. Kahn said it’s important for the center to stay on the cutting edge of care while making patients as safe and comfortable as possible as they heal.

“We control pain, make sure that we keep wounds clean and free of infection and determine an optimal, patient-centered approach to help them heal. Sometimes folks will get artificial skin or a skin substitute to help ease pain and speed healing. And then people with the deepest injuries sometimes get skin grafts or other minimally invasive reconstructive procedures, such as a skin cell spray.”

The Burn Center also has rooms that heat to more than 90 degrees. “After a big burn injury, a patient can’t regulate their body temperature.”

And a hydrotherapy room helps clean burn wounds safely and as comfortably as possible. “It's essentially a shower room. There's a big shower. People can get in. And then there's a bed with drains where water comes down from hoses in the ceiling, which really cleans wounds extraordinarily well.”

Kahn said a burn injury affects the entire body and causes changes in every organ system. “And so it's more than just taking care of the skin. It changes your metabolism. It changes the way your kidneys and your liver work. Being able to manage all those things after burn injury requires a special team.”

He said the Burn Center is honored to be recognized for its success. “It’s a testament to the skill and dedication of our team. The team’s done an amazing job.”

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