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?