On Feb. 7, 2008, in my hometown of Port Wentworth, 14 people lost their lives in one of the worst industrial accidents in our state’s history.
The horrible explosion that night at the Imperial Sugar plant changed the lives of many in the greater Savannah area, reminding us how fragile life is and how important emergency services are.
During the 2009 legislative session, Dr. Robert Mullins from the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, where most of the burn victims were treated, addressed the Georgia legislature and said that had it not been for a Level 1 trauma center being located at Memorial University Health Center in Savannah, we probably would have lost 10-12 more lives.
By now, most Georgians are aware of the great need for trauma care in our state. Most are aware of the importance of the “golden hour,” that first hour after a traumatic injury that is so vitally important for survival.
Most Georgians are aware that because of the lack of a better trauma system in our state, there is a 20 percent greater chance that you will die as a result of a traumatic injury when compared to other states. That equates to about 700 more deaths per year in Georgia.
On April 27, 2010, after years of debate and tireless efforts by many people, the Georgia state legislature passed SR 277, a constitutional amendment that will create the Georgia Trauma Trust Fund (GTTF) and provide a DEDICATED funding source for the statewide trauma network. Operations of the GTTF will be provided for by the legislature who will specify the trauma care purposes that will be carried out.
The question will be placed on the ballot in November and, if passed by the voters, will amend the Constitution of Georgia so as to impose an annual $10 trauma charge on passenger vehicles designed to carry ten or fewer passengers, including pickup trucks, motorcycles, sport utility vehicles, and passenger vans.
The annual charge will be collected at the same time as other license tag and registration fees required by law prior to the issuance of a license plate or revalidation decal and will be deposited in the GTTF. It is estimated that the $10 charge will raise $78 million per year in revenue that will be dedicated to trauma.
One thing that is unclear at this time is what will become of the $23 million that was expected to be generated by the “super speeder” law that went into effect at the first of this year and was intended to go toward trauma funding. While many believe that the trauma funding plan was for both fund sources to be dedicated to trauma, the “super speeder” money was only earmarked for trauma, not dedicated.
Compounding this problem is the fact that as of March 2010, the state had only collected $15,400 in “super speeder” fines. However, to the credit of Gov. Sonny Perdue and the legislature, the past two budgets have both included $23 million for trauma.
Regardless of whether the “super speeder” fine revenues continue to be earmarked for trauma, having the dedicated funds from the passenger vehicle charge will give hospitals in our state the reassurance to invest in equipment, programs and personnel needed for a trauma center.
Still, critics of the charge say it is nothing more that another tax and that it will only benefit those areas in rural Georgia that are currently under served by trauma centers. More metropolitan areas of the state such as Atlanta, Savannah, Macon and Augusta, already are served by Level 1 trauma centers and therefore will not benefit from the trauma charge.
What these critics are missing however is, aside from the obvious benefits of having a more healthy and better prepared state, many of these patients from the underserved areas are being treated at the metropolitan centers, increasing costs for these hospitals.
So the stage is set — we in the legislature have finally done our job and have given the citizens of this state an opportunity to fund trauma care.
Between now and November there will be much said and written about this vital service but one thing is sure — responsible people do the right thing — and this is the right thing to do.
Just ask the people in Port Wentworth.