Troubled trauma care

It's a Band-Aid solution for a problem that is begging for a permanent cure.

Since the Georgia General Assembly couldn't decide this past session on precisely how to provide consistent funding for Georgia's impoverished trauma centers, it instead threw a $58 million quick-fix lump at the trauma network, and tasked a state commission to determine how those funds will be disbursed to the centers at just 15 hospitals statewide.

That brings up another problem. There aren't nearly enough trauma centers in Georgia.

Trauma centers are the specialized units of hospitals that have the professional staffing and expertise to deal with sudden, serious wounds -- stabbings, skull fractures, severe burns and so on.

But because we have so few trauma centers in the state, people in Georgia are 20 times more likely to die from trauma injuries than the national average -- because the victims are less likely to receive care within the precious "golden hour" in which the wound was sustained.

Instead of adding trauma centers, hospitals are dropping them, mainly because they have a hemorrhaging problem: Trauma centers bleed money.

Trauma centers provide an emergency service, and who's most likely to seek out emergency service? The indigent and the uninsured -- two groups that have poor records of paying their medical bills. So who pays? The hospitals. That's why four trauma centers in Georgia have shut their doors since 2001. Offering quality care on essentially a free-clinic income is unsustainable.

Several funding ideas were batted around during the past state legislative session.

There was the proposal to levy a $10 fee on auto tags and give the proceeds to trauma centers. The problem with that, though, was that it was incorporated into House Speaker Glenn Richardson's dog of a tax reform bill.

State Rep. Ben Harbin cosponsored a bill that would have devoted the state's share of property taxes to trauma care. Our taxes wouldn't have gone up, and it would have raised a few million dollars more than the $85 million the network needs annually to operate. But Gov. Sonny Perdue prefers keeping that money for tax relief instead.

One proposal that won bipartisan support was a $1 charge on all Georgians' phone bills. That fizzled as well.

Another proposal would have allowed coin-operated gambling machines in Georgia, so the state could tax them. We're not so sure about the wisdom of that.

The point is, at least there is no shortage of ideas. The task now is to keep hammering away at this issue until proper funding is found.

The Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University is playing host to a Georgia Trauma Forum this Tuesday, June 3 -- the first of three forums on this pressing issue. Leaders from the public and private sectors will put their heads together to craft recommendations for government and industry leaders to address and solve this crisis.

We hope this attracts the attention of our elected officials, and further emboldens them to act quickly.

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