Georgians to decide on $10 tagged for trauma care

Amendment to fund expansion has critics

If you suffer a head injury in a horrific wreck on Bobby Jones Expressway, chances are excellent that a neurosurgeon specializing in trauma will be waiting for you at the hospital.

A construction worker who falls off scaffolding in Evans can be seen within an hour by a trauma specialist, as can a child who nearly drowns in Waynesboro.

But the farther you drive away from Augusta, the odds of seeing a trauma specialist within the so-called "golden hour" diminish. That hour is the time medical professionals say is crucial not just to surviving a traumatic injury, but improving a survivor's quality of life.

Trauma is a blunt or penetrating injury, such as a blow from a baseball bat or a gunshot wound. Such a serious injury requires intense and rapid medical attention, and that's the purpose of a trauma center.

Augusta's Medical College of Georgia Hospital is one of four Level 1 trauma centers in Georgia. All the nurses, doctors and surgeons are trained specifically to handle the complex and brutal injuries associated with trauma.

But it's not cheap.

A survey four years ago calculated that all the hospitals in Georgia providing trauma services lost a combined figure between $80 million and $120 million annually. At the time of the survey, MCG and its clinics were losing more than $8 million in services related to trauma, according to Richard Bias, the senior vice president of ambulatory and network services at MCG.

"It's a lot of commitment to become a trauma center," Bias said.

On the Nov. 2 ballot, Georgia's voters can decide whether they want to amend the state's constitution and add $10 to the tag renewal tax on "certain passenger motor vehicles." That money would be placed into a trust fund and used exclusively for updating Georgia's network of trauma centers, according to the proposed ballot amendment.

Critics are leery of what they view as another tax while Americans still limp through recession recovery. They are also concerned because this new proposal follows on the heels of a "super speeder" surcharge to traffic tickets implemented Jan. 1. That law added a $200 additional fine to the ticket of anyone driving more than 75 mph on a two-lane road or more than 85 mph on any other road.

The ticket money was also designated to fund trauma centers, but advocates for Amendment 2 say it hasn't met the demand.

That fuels skepticism.

"I don't think taxpayers should be footing the bill for trauma care," said Virginia Galloway, the state director for Americans for Prosperity Georgia.

Proponents say a constitutional amendment guarantees that the money will not be used for any other purpose, but Galloway said that gives her no peace of mind.

The Libertarian Party of Georgia opposes all five of the constitutional amendments on the Nov. 2 ballot and calls Amendment 2 a "gimmick" by the state Legislature.

"Though it is only $10, this is the latest tax on hardworking Georgians who are already overtaxed at all levels of government in the midst of tough economic times," the party said on its Web site.

Dr. Regina Medeiros, the trauma coordinator for MCG, prefers to call the surcharge an "insurance policy." Augusta-area residents enjoy excellent trauma care, but that layer of protection fades as you travel around the state, Medeiros said.

Amendment 2 also affects Augustans because having fewer trauma centers in the state means more people are sent to Level 1 trauma centers such as MCG -- even if they have injuries that could be treated at a Level 2 or Level 3 center. That means if the hospital is too full some patients will be sent to Atlanta or Columbia, Bias said.

More Americans between the ages of 1 and 44 die from unintentional injuries than from any disease or illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates that 700 people die in Georgia each year because of gaps in trauma care. Advocates say those gaps could be closed if the trauma center network is expanded from 16 to 30 hospitals that provide trauma care.

Dr. Colville Ferdinand, a surgeon in the trauma center, said comprehensive funding for Georgia's trauma centers is "long overdue."

What kind of care you receive after a traumatic injury depends on what you want to invest, Ferdinand said.

"You get what you pay for," he said.

 

Choosing what's best for Georgia
Georgia constitutional amendments

1. Allows competitive contracts to be enforced in Georgia courts. This proposal provides an exception to the current constitutional provision which prohibits the General Assembly from authorizing any contract or agreement which may have the effect of or which is intended to have the effect of defeating or lessening competition.

2. Adds $10 tag fee on private passenger vehicles to fund statewide trauma care expansion. This proposal provides for a $10.00 trauma charge to be imposed annually on each motor vehicle designed to carry 10 or fewer persons that is used for the transportation of persons, including pickup trucks, motorcycles, sport utility vehicles, and passenger vans.

The trauma charge would be collected together with license tag and registration fees. The proceeds of the trauma charge would be placed in a trauma trust fund and used for trauma care purposes specified by law.

3. Allows the state to execute multiyear contracts for long-term transportation projects. This proposal provides an exception to the general rule that prohibits a state agency from entering into contracts with private vendors that obligate payments beyond the funds available to the agency within its fiscal year.

It would allow the General Assembly by statute to let the Department of Transportation enter into construction agreements without obligating present funds for the full amount of the obligation.

4. Allows the state to execute multiyear contracts for projects to improve energy efficiency and conservation. This proposal provides an exception to the general rule that prohibits a state agency from entering into contracts with private vendors that obligate payments beyond the funds available to the agency within the fiscal year.

It would permit the General Assembly to authorize by general law state governmental entities to incur debt for the purpose of entering into contracts extending for not more than 10 years for governmental energy efficiency or conservation improvement projects in which payments are guaranteed over the term of the contract by vendors based on the realization of specified savings or revenue gains attributable solely to the improvements.

5. Allows owners of industrial-zoned property to choose to remove the industrial designation from their property. The proposal amends the provisions of the Constitution relating to industrial areas which exist in only two counties in the state -- Chatham and Jeff Davis.

Under the Georgia Constitution in effect prior to 1983 it was possible to have "local constitutional amendments" which affected only certain areas in the state.

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