Significant events have a way of remaining with us throughout our lives. Almost all of us can remember where we were and what we were doing on 9/11 when we heard that America had been attacked by terrorists.
Such was the case for me on Feb. 7 of last year when I first heard of the explosion in my hometown of Port Wentworth. I was still in my office at the state capitol around 8:30 p.m. that Thursday night when then state Sen. Regina Thomas called me on my cell phone and told me that there had been an explosion at Imperial Sugar.
As time unfolded following one of the worst industrial accidents in our state’s history, we learned that 14 lives had been lost that night and numerous injuries had been sustained.
During the legislative session earlier this year, I was reminded of the many heroic feats that our emergency personnel performed during this tragedy and the importance of our trauma centers when Dr. Fred Mullins from the burn center in Augusta spoke at the Capitol. Dr. Mullins reminded us that had it not been for the Level 1 trauma center located at Memorial University in Savannah, we would have lost 10 to12 more lives that night.
By now, most Georgians are aware of the great need for trauma care in our state and of the importance of the “golden hour,” that first hour after a traumatic injury that is so vitally important for survival.
This is particularly true for the more than 1 million Georgians primarily from rural north and south Georgia who live more than 50 miles from a trauma center. Studies show that in metro Atlanta, a traffic fatality happens about once every 339 accidents as opposed to rural Georgia where a fatality occurs once every 74 accidents.
Last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law HB 160, the super-speeder bill that will impose an additional $200 fine for driving over 85 mph anywhere in the state and for driving 75mph or more on a two-lane road.
One of the intentions of the super-speeder bill is to change behaviors by slowing people down. Certainly none of us need to be driving more that 15 mph above the speed limit and tacking on a $200 fine to a speeding ticket should get peoples attention and hopefully change their behavior.
Another intention of the super-speeder bill is to help fund our trauma system by raising an estimated $23 million a year that may be used for trauma care enhancements.
While we certainly welcome any revenue source for trauma in our state, this new law raises a number of questions.
First of all the fines are not dedicated to trauma. Although the FY 2010 budget does include $23 million for trauma, with the funds having to be appropriated every year, what guarantees do hospitals have that the funds will be allocated to trauma every year?
Secondly, and most importantly, is this the only funding source for trauma that we will have in our state?
While medical experts estimate that between $80-85 million is needed to bring our trauma care network up to an acceptable level, the super-speeder fine by itself will fall far short of our needs.
The super-speeder law is a good law that hopefully will change behaviors and make us all slow down. However, while any revenues appropriated to trauma care in our state are certainly helpful, to suggest that this new fine by itself is the answer to our trauma care funding dilemma in Georgia is preposterous.
Until we fully fund our trauma care system in Georgia with a dedicated funding source, our hospitals will not be able to invest in the equipment, programs and personnel needed to provide our state with an adequate trauma system.