How Much is A Life Worth?

Yesterday, a student raged through the halls of a Virginia Tech campus dorm, killing 32 and eventually taking his own life. There were many other injured, all of whom were taken to one of the three trauma centers located within 27 miles of the campus. Had this tragedy occured in Georgia, we’d have prayed to be so fortunate. There are no trauma centers located close to the University of Georgia campus in Athens. There are none located close to Valdosta State University in Valdosta. There are no trauma hospitals close to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

In fact, only 15 of Georgia’s 152 acute care facilities (actually 14 because two weeks ago, DeKalb Medical Center withdrew from the system, citing an inability to bear the rising uncompensated costs of providing trauma care) are designated as trauma centers, leaving gaping holes in Georgia’s demography uncovered by trauma care. These 14 trauma centers incur approximately $250 million per year in uncompensated trauma costs. These costs are incurred from treating patients with violent, life threatening injuries incurred in devastating accidents on our roadways and in our communities. These injuries are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Of the 600 facilities nationwide that treat these types of injuries, it is expected that 10-20% will close in the next three years.

These are the facilities that fight for life when we have a bus careen over an interstate overpass. These are the facilities that treat gunshot victims like those in Virginia. These are the facilities that treat victims and sustain the system during natural disaster situations like the recent tornadoes in Middle Georgia.

Due to the devastating lack of financial support for her trauma system, Georgia’s death rate in trauma cases is 20% above the national average. Motor vehicle accidents are the number one leading cause of these injuries.

During the 2006 legislative session, a study committee was appointed to study the current situation of the trauma system and discover new ways to improve and bolster it. The committee met numerous times and heard extensive testimony from experts on trauma in Georgia healthcare field, and experts from other states who’s trauma systems are much more advanced than Georgia’s. The committee came forth with a proposal to create a comprehensive, effective trauma system for the state of Georgia.

Last night, the Georgia State Senate took a first step to fund that system. The Senate voted 30-20 to pass House Bill 374 with language that would set up funding to begin building a trauma system that Georgian’s can feel safe with. This bill places an addon to car rental contracts, and sets up principles for how that money is to be used by the General Assembly. Estimated to raise roughly $25,000,000 per year, this money will be used to fund the Georgia Trauma Commission and the mandates contained in SB 60.

Many have been quick to cry foul, sneak, or better yet, “tax increase!” Those are the individuals who haven’t taken the time to fully examine this issue. The funding targets the behavior which is the number one cause of trauma cases in Georgia: driving and automobiles. The funding mechanism targets a source of funding which is made up primarily of people who are not even residents of the state of Georgia.

Finally, this funding will be the foundation of a system that will save the lives of an estimated 700 Georgians per year. This insurance policy for the people who Georgia who may one day be run over, shot, maimed, or beaten half to death begs us to ask the question: what is one life worth? Better yet, what are 700 lives worth?

12 comments

  1. freeloader says:

    “begs us to ask the question: what is one life worth?”

    An utterly preposterous and demagogued question. From unlimited amount of funds for cancer or AIDS research to endless supplies of food and shelter; we can sit around all day and come up with millions of examples of how the government could have saved another life if we just didn’t place a value on it.

    It’s a great bleeding heart statement, but not realistic. Obviously government has to make priorities on taxpayer dollars and unfortunately we can’t save every single life with a blank check – it would bankrupt us all.

    I’m sure the trauma centers are important to you and perhaps they are a good idea and should be a priority, but to demagogue it by insinuating government cannot place a value on any human life is ridiculous.

  2. MidGaDawg says:

    Freeloader is dead on. And, from the sound of the first few paragraphs, which would have been quite convincing without the ridiculous title, I expected a bigger number than 700 at the end. But I agree, at least every major city/region should have one — is the closest one to Athens in Atlanta? That is a problem worth fixing (and not just because I live there 😉

    Now, to perhaps crassly answer the question posed … $25,000,000/700 = $35,714.29

  3. drjay says:

    unless something has changed, i believe the gwinnett med center in lawrenceville is the closest trauma center to athens–and i do not know if they are level one or not–or if either of the hospitals in athens are perhaps lower level centers or not…

  4. Holly says:

    When Travis Starr had his accident in Athens, he was transported to Augusta. I’m not sure if that was the choice of his parents, since he was from Augusta, or if MCG was the best place for his injuries, or both.

  5. Erick says:

    Many have been quick to cry foul, sneak, or better yet, “tax increase!” Those are the individuals who haven’t taken the time to fully examine this issue.

    Actually, some of us are willing to call it a tax increase, because it is, while others want to pretend that it is not — it’s not the tax increase that’s the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the failure of some to admit that it is a new tax.

    Personally, I’m willing to let it slide because I think we need to beef up our trauma and this seems to be the most reasonable compromise. But it is still a tax increase.

  6. Donkey Kong says:

    I concur with Erick. It’s a tax increase–let’s call it for what it is. But it’s one that is necessary and excusable. Let’s protect the citizens of Georgia. I’m glad the Senate pushed forward this bill.

    If we still need funding, gut the Fishing bill. Heck, gut it anyway. Stinkin’ pork.

  7. shelbinator says:

    $35K per life is a pretty good bargain. When I worked in aviation accidents, I got used to a rule of thumb of about $1M per fatality in a bad accident, when you think about investigations, liability, settlements, etc. Knock it down to half that, say, for your average automobile accident, since you don’t have the whole “why did they fall out of the sky” aspect, and you’re still loooking at a return on investment of over 1000% — saving $350M with an investment of $25M.

    Glad to see some of you are willing to make that investment, considering how whiny some got over traffic light cameras paying for trauma centers.

  8. bowersville says:

    Contrary to the above, there is a trauma center in Thomasville which is close to Valdosta. The problem with Thomasville is there is no air ambulance service.

    Macon and Columbus have trauma centers, I’m not familiar with their air ambulance capability.

    As I remember, much of southwest Georgia depends on the air ambulance services from the Jacksonville,Fl trauma center.

    Here in NE Ga. the air ambulance services are out of MCG Augusta, Metro Atlanta and Greeneville SC.

    I don’t want to get whiny, but it’s time to think outside the box. The Georgia Care Network Commission was created and was a good start, but let’s look beyond raising our taxes or raising fine money.

    Among other duties, the Georgia Trauma Commission has been charged with identifying Federal monies and grants. There are billions available through Federal Homeland Security grants.

    So how would our trauma centers qualify? Dual roles. A center that provides field medical response for anthrax, dirty bombs, etc. with first responders, medications, vaccines etc. Plus, follow up critical trauma care.

    This would require a modern air ambulance response and increased trauma care center capabilities. (ie, more Federal money)

    At last count, the Commanding General of the Ga. National Guard was the Ga. Homeland Security director. The Army is well versed in operating these type of response and trauma centers, there is no need in re-eventing the wheel, it is time we consider a different avenue to accomplish our goals in trauma care.

  9. drjay says:

    there are 14 “trauma centers” in ga–ranging from level 1 to level 4–i used to be much more well versed in this as i was once a trauma nurse at mcg–the 4 level 1’s are grady, mcg, mccg (in macon) and memorial (savannah)–level one means all specialties (ortho, neuro, plastics, cardio, ophthamology, etc)in house 24 hours a day. level 2- i think you have to have all specialties on call–and at least certain ones in house 24/7, down to a level 4, that is the ability to triage and stabilize and not much else–as i recall–anyone feel free to correct me on that.

    there was a list of all the centers on the internets somewhere that we had in the er at mcg–i’ll see if i can find it…the list is shrinking btw…19 then 15 now 14…

  10. drjay says:

    LEVEL 1

    Medical Center of Central Ga. *
    Macon
    Bibb
    478-633-1584

    Memorial Health Univ. Medical Center *
    Savannah
    Chatham
    912-350-8861

    Medical College of Georgia *
    Augusta
    Richmond
    706-721-3153

    Grady Memorial Hospital *
    Atlanta
    Fulton
    404-616-6200

    LEVEL 2

    Floyd Medical Center
    Rome
    Floyd
    706-802-2941

    North Fulton Medical Center
    Roswell
    Fulton
    770-751-2559

    Medical Center-Columbus
    Columbus
    Muscogee
    706-571-1081

    Atlanta Medical Center
    Atlanta
    Fulton
    404-265-6577

    Hamilton Medical Center
    Dalton
    Whitfield
    706-272-6150

    Gwinnett Medical Center
    Lawrenceville
    Gwinnett
    678-442-4321

    John D. Archbold
    Thomasville
    Thomas
    229-228-2834

    LEVEL 3

    Dekalb Medical Center
    Decatur
    Dekalb
    404-501-5651

    LEVEL 4

    Morgan Memorial
    Madison
    Morgan
    706-342-1667

    Walton Regional Medical Center
    Monroe
    Walton
    770-267-1781

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