The Medical University of South Carolina's trauma department has received national "Level 1" status, the highest rating a trauma center can receive.

MUSC, inspected in November, is the first in the state to get the top national rating from the American College of Surgeons, MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said today. The state health department already has given MUSC and three other South Carolina hospitals the top ranking.

The national verification "provides confirmation that a hospital has demonstrated the ability to provide the highest quality trauma care," Woolwine said in a release.

Trauma centers are ranked as Level 1, 2 or 3, depending on the level of care they can provide, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Among other specifications, Level 1 centers must have trauma surgery, anesthesia and operating room capabilities available at all times, according to the department's website. Other specialists must be on call and able to respond within a short time, the site said.

The Charleston area's other hospitals are Level 3, meaning they "should have the capability to initially manage the majority of injured patients and have transfer agreements with a Level 1 or 2 trauma center for patients whose needs exceed their resources," according to the state's site.

Patients are routed to specific hospitals depending on their locations and the severity of their conditions.

MUSC, which treats about 2,100 trauma patients annually, is the Level 1 trauma center for the Lowcountry. Columbia's Palmetto Richland Hospital handles the Midlands, while Spartanburg Regional Medical Center and Greenville Memorial Medical Center handle the Upstate.

"The closest hospital with an emergency room may not be the best place to take a trauma patient," said Dr. Bruce Crookes, MUSC's medical director for trauma. "For a seriously injured patient, transport to a Level 1 center such as MUSC can increase his or her chances at survival."

Crookes pointed to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed patients treated at Level 1 trauma centers fare better than those with comparable injuries who are treated at non-trauma centers.