It's the No. 1 cause of death among Americans ages 1 to 44. In Georgia, its occurrence is 20 times more likely than the national average.
It's trauma death -- from accidental falls, bullet wounds, severe burns or automobile crashes. And the state still hasn't come up with a way to make its statewide trauma care network even remotely adequate. That's one of the biggest issues -- some would say the biggest issue -- facing the Georgia General Assembly this term.
The facts are too grim to ignore: Of Georgia's 152 acute-care hospitals, only 15 have trauma centers, which are specialized facilities designed to handle severe injuries. That number is only about half of the number the state needs to properly deal with trauma emergencies. Of about 40,000 major trauma cases annually in the state, only about 10,000 are treated in designated trauma centers.
So why don't more hospitals field trauma centers? Because, financially, they're a losing proposition. Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, for example, bled $42 million a year as it provided uncompensated trauma care. Elsewhere in the state the monetary figures may be different, but the situation is the same: Since most emergency-room traffic consists of the uninsured and the indigent, hospitals lose millions of dollars annually through its trauma centers. That has led some hospitals to consider dropping its trauma center designations, which would make the state's dire health care situation even worse.
The latest price tag to stabilize Georgia's trauma network has been set at $85 million. So far, the most that the system has managed to get from the state is a $58 million lump sum that has yet to be split among the state's trauma centers. Meanwhile, lawmakers have to decide -- quickly and fairly -- how the centers will get much-needed funding on a reliable, long-term basis.
Mark Feb. 23 on your calendar. It's Trauma Capitol Day, when the most vocal advocates of proper trauma care in Georgia will make themselves heard. For more information or to RSVP, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (770) 522-9460.