Dr. Keyan Riley, originally from Sacramento, Calif., graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1996. Riley, Memorial Hospital North’s trauma medical director, went on to complete medical school at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel while on active duty. Riley currently serves in the Air Force Reserves out of Schriever and Buckley Air Force bases when he’s not leading Memorial North’s transition to a Level III trauma designation. Riley, who lives in Black Forest with his wife and four kids, spoke with the Business Journal about leading Memorial’s northernmost trauma presence into the 21st century.
As an Air Force surgeon, you were deployed. How did that experience impact your current work?
I was in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and I learned a lot of leadership skills. My job there was managing and moving patients around. … It was a horrible job and a good job too. … I was functioning there as a trauma surgeon, but at the same time, I was basically the equivalent of, on the civilian side, chief of the medical staff. I oversaw physicians and surgeons and patient care. It was lots of paperwork and late-night phone calls to move patients around.
Now that you’re back in the Springs, what do your responsibilities include?
I started here July 6 as trauma medical director. Memorial North [was just designated] a Level III trauma center, and we have to have a whole trauma program. It’s not enough to just have an [emergency room] and surgeons on staff. We have a dedicated program that focuses on reviewing every patient who comes through here. We have protocols and my job is to write those protocols, oversee them and oversee the program. I direct the medical side.
What does that look like?
The surgeons taking care of patients are making decisions and I don’t have to direct those. But we have protocols that guide general principles of care, and also which patients can be seen here and which can’t. I work with [emergency] crews to determine who would be brought here versus sent somewhere else to receive a higher level of care. Those policies have to written down ahead of time. That absorbs a lot of the medical focus of what I do. On the administrative side, along with our trauma program manager, … we pull every record of patients and sit and review whether care was appropriate and timely and whether there are opportunities for improvement. We then meet with providers and have those discussions.
What needs to be done to be upgraded to Level III?
There’s a mountain of paperwork. It’s medical and administrative, and it’s hard to separate the two. For example, when the state comes out to review us, they bring a checklist that’s about 36 pages long — boxes of requirements met and not met. Those range from having enough people to take call and provide the medical care to making sure the monitors in the ER have the right capabilities. There’s a lot of administrative work that has to be done to get all the other pieces in place. That’s not necessarily direct patient care, but a matter of buying the right things and having the right staffing in place. Administration here has put an emphasis on this being a trauma center, so we’ve hired more employees to staff certain capacities we didn’t possess before July.
Is it necessary to increase trauma capabilities as the community grows?
One does not have to follow the other. But our administration and those who work here feel this is the target area for growth in the county. We want to be able to provide trauma services to El Paso County, Palmer Divide and the areas to the east. We want to provide that resource to the community and as we grow, we anticipate this will be a real demand. The trauma designation is partly a result of that growth, but also because there’s truly a medical need in the community to step up our game.
How has your military experience benefited you in this position?
The biggest thing the military did was provide a primer on the administrative pros and cons of how to lead people. Coming out of the Academy, that was bred into us. You go through the ranks to command eventually. I didn’t have a command in the military, but my last job in Afghanistan was probably the best preparation I could have had for this. I was still expected to function as a surgeon and then interface with all these military groups from Special Forces to the regular line of the Army and Air Force, and deal with their commanders and then, on top of that, deal with all of my providers. A lot of the same issues I dealt with there I’m seeing here with the trauma program.