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State's trauma system ailing
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It’s every parent’s worst nightmare — the phone call late at night telling you that your child has been in a car wreck.

In the state of Georgia, traumatic injuries such as car wrecks, falls, gunshot wounds, etc., cause over 5,400 deaths and result in over 100,000 calls for emergency medical services each year. They also cause 75,000 hospitalizations, 1 million emergency room visits and over 2 million visits to doctor’s offices.  

While these figures are appalling, perhaps most staggering is that traumatic injuries are the leading cause of death for Georgians aged 1-45. In fact, Georgia’s death rate from trauma cases is 20 percent higher than the national average.
Why is this? Why is it that patients are much more likely to die from trauma in Georgia than anywhere else in the U.S.?         

Many point to the lack of a statewide trauma system in Georgia. Currently, of the state’s 152 hospitals only 14 are certified trauma care hospitals. Of these only four are designated as Level 1 centers meaning that they are staffed around the clock by a full range of specialists, including surgical, orthopedic, emergency medicine and neurological trauma experts.  They also have high-tech equipment on hand to treat the most severe injuries on site.  

Studies have shown that rural South Georgia is particularly underserved by trauma centers. With the four Level 1 centers being located in the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Augusta, Macon and Savannah, a driver involved in a car wreck along I-75 in South Georgia is miles from the nearest trauma center. Compounding the problem in this region is the shortage of doctors in rural areas.

Why are trauma centers so important?  Studies have shown that the so-called golden hour — the first hour after a crash — is critical and that those patients receiving care at a trauma center during this time have a better chance of survival and lower risk of a long-term disability.  

The reason that we have such a problem with trauma centers in our state can be summed up in one word — funding. Because most trauma cases involve patients who have been injured in car crashes or have suffered penetrating violent injuries such as gunshot wounds, this population tends to be young and uninsured. It is estimated that every year trauma centers in Georgia provide over $170 million in uncompensated care.  

Currently Grady Hospital in Atlanta estimates that it is losing over $8 million per month and much of that is due to being the only Level 1 trauma center in North Georgia.  Last week, Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah announced it expects to lose over $30 million this year in part because of the increasing number of patients being treated in its Level 1 trauma center.

Earlier this year, in response to the obvious need for a statewide trauma system in Georgia, the state legislature created a nine-member commission to oversee any state money set aside to help fund trauma centers and to coordinate the network of trauma hospitals and emergency services.   

Although no funding source has yet been identified to pay the estimated $85 million for an initial statewide trauma system setup in Georgia, a number of proposals have been considered including appropriating money from the state’s general fund.

Some of the other ideas include a $1 monthly fee on telephone subscribers, including landline and cell phones and the governor’s proposal of stiffer penalties for the “super speeders” on state highways.  

Also being suggested is a surcharge on 911 service for telephone customers as well as selling advertising space on message boards that span our interstates. One proposal that is currently in the legislature would use fines from traffic light cameras to fund the network.

While we will never be able to eliminate the anxiety of a parent’s worst nightmare, leaders in the state of Georgia are fully committed to finding a funding source to establish a statewide trauma system that will help save Georgians lives.