Paoli Hospital announced yesterday that it hopes to open a trauma center. Chester County has been without such a facility since 2002, when Brandywine Hospital closed its trauma center.

The hospital, part of Main Line Health, said it would submit a letter of intent to open a Level II trauma center to the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation, which oversees trauma care in the state. The Main Line Health board of governors approved the plan Thursday.

If approved, the hospital could be treating trauma patients by January.

The Chester County Trauma Services Task Force, appointed by Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), found that it takes an average of 70 to 75 minutes to get people injured in Chester County to a trauma center, beyond the "golden hour" that experts recommend.

"The reason we're doing this is about this dramatic need," Paoli Hospital president Barbara Tachovsky said.

Gerlach, who has pushed for a new trauma center in the county for at least five years, said he was "very pleased" by Paoli's decision. More centrally located Brandywine and Chester County Hospitals have also expressed some interest. Gerlach said he did not know whether they were still interested. Brandywine did not return a phone call; a Chester County Hospital spokeswoman said her hospital could not afford to open a trauma center. Gerlach said the key was having a trauma center somewhere in the country.

Most of the busiest intersections in the county - the sources of many trauma cases - are within 10 miles of Paoli Hospital, Tachovsky said. The county has 1,500 to 1,600 trauma patients a year.

Paoli will open a 259,000-square-foot patient pavilion in July that will have space for a trauma unit, Tachovsky said. Finding neurosurgeons and trauma surgeons willing to work at suburban trauma centers has been a problem for some hospitals, but Tachovsky said that as part of the Jefferson Health System, of which Main Line Health is a part, Paoli would have access to Jefferson surgeons.

Trauma centers tend to be expensive to operate, but Tachovsky said Paoli expected to see a return on its investment in six years.