Boulder Community Hospital
As the patient rolled in yelling, the trauma team did their best to calm and hold him to do their assessment. This only caused him more distress. Dr. Laura Harmon immediately recognized him as a patient of hers. She calmly took control and kindly asked the team to take a step back, stop talking, and just be present, and let the patient settle. He did, and the team was able to resume their exam and care for him.
“Trauma patients by nature are a vulnerable population. They often arrive injured and with their clothes cut off them,” said Dr. Harmon, a trauma surgeon at Boulder Community Health (BCH). “The most sacred part of the practice of medicine is not the actual scientific part, but rather the emotional protection of a person while we meet their medical needs.”
In her role as the Trauma Medical Director and Chief of the Department of Surgery, Dr. Harmon has transformed the model of care BCH provides, integrating evidence-based, trauma-informed care into their everyday practice. Injured patients suffer not only physical but also emotional trauma, and attempting to navigate the medical system can become overwhelming and prohibitive. Recognizing that access to care is critically important, especially for marginalized populations, Dr. Harmon helped create a trauma outpatient program that anchors their care. Patients have access to a multidisciplinary team consisting of trauma-informed therapists, physical and speech-language therapists, prosthetists, and subspecialty and primary care providers.
In addition to Dr. Harmon’s extraordinary care of patients and their families, she has changed the culture at BCH with her awareness and appreciation for the experiences of her colleagues. After a particularly heartbreaking situation, in which the care team struggled with watching a family experience the loss of their child, Dr. Harmon held a debriefing session. Together with a chaplain, she created a safe space for staff to talk about their experiences.
“What has been so striking is that she has reached critical care staff in such a way that they feel safe to process secondary trauma, and are actually beginning to see this as a skill just as necessary as any other to stay resilient and engaged in their work,” said a colleague.
Dr. Harmon’s vision extends beyond the walls of BCH. In April 2023, she hosted the first regional Trauma Symposium, which focused on diversity, equity and inclusion with a goal of developing a broader network of community support for patients and their families. One of her patients and his husband joined a panel discussion, which gave staff precious insight into their experiences as trauma survivors and how to best support them. The patient was reunited with everyone who cared for him—from police officers and EMS to the rehab team who helped him learn to walk again. It was as healing for staff as it was for their patient.
“There are those very few doctors that by their very nature and presence, transcend the boundaries of skill, competency, knowledge, empathy, kindness and compassion,” said a patient. “I know am being seen and strangely, felt. Simply being in their presence is healing. Dr. Harmon is one of those rare physicians.”