By John S. Harvey, M.D.
According to a 2006 report by the Georgia Senate Research Office, some 700 Georgians lose their life each year because of the state’s inadequate trauma care system. Imagine 700 people lined up from end to end. Each year, every year.
As a state, we face a multiple-level crisis unless fundamental change takes place. This is especially true in rural Georgia, where minutes carry a higher-than-usual premium in the trauma care world. There’s a stretch of I-75 south of Macon that’s referred to as the “Corridor of Death” in trauma care circles. As a physician and a citizen, I find that repugnant and unacceptable.
The good news is that an adequate statewide trauma care system is clearly within our reach. In those areas where a trauma infrastructure already is in place, Georgia’s capabilities are on par with the rest of the country. The challenge is to extend that level of care to the entire state.
We’ll need an estimated $100 million or more per year to create and sustain the kind of trauma system that’s required to save those 700 lives. That’s why the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) is supporting a complement of legislative remedies to fully fund the state’s trauma care system, including a “super-speeder” fine (H.B. 160), a $10 fee on automobiles (H.B. 148), a fee on telephone service and wireless device sales (H.B. 183) and proceeds from the ad valorem tax (H.B. 192).
Gov. Sonny Perdue, a long-time advocate for health care in Georgia, and the other bill sponsors should be commended for their vision and their leadership.
A number of states have dedicated funding streams for their trauma care systems. Without that kind of adequate and sustainable funding mechanism in place, any trauma system – regardless of how well it’s managed – is destined to fail.
The trauma system consists of a number of pieces, including EMS services (e.g., technicians and transport), communications (e.g., the 911 system), rehabilitation, hospitals, administration, nurses and physicians. Each is essential and each has to be addressed in a unique way if we want to build an exemplary, truly integrated trauma network. Trauma victims would never get to the hospitals and trauma surgeons they need to have a chance to survive without adequate transportation and EMS personnel.
Complicating matters is a shortage of physicians in the state, which the Georgia Board of Physician Workforce says will total 2,500 by 2020, including 1,500 in underserved areas. Trauma surgeons possess a unique skill set, one we can’t afford to lose. They are expected to operate in a high-stress, fast-paced environment. What’s more, they often provide care for the uninsured, which means they often go uncompensated; I can’t think of too many professions that would accept that as the norm.
All health care providers need to be compensated in a fair and equitable way to ensure that they will participate in the state’s trauma system. The trauma bills that are currently under consideration by lawmakers in Georgia can provide those resources.
Our state leaders need to think strategically when it comes to our trauma care system. That means upgrading the trauma infrastructure, enhancing the state’s readiness capabilities and accounting for the full spectrum of stakeholders along the trauma network chain. It also means putting a funding source into place that is sustainable, secure and renewable on an annual basis. Finally, it means passing the aforementioned mix of bills to adequately fund the trauma care system.
We will ultimately need to provide the group of health care providers who are at the core of the trauma system in Georgia with the peace of mind that there’s a permanent and adequate funding stream in place. That will translate into peace of mind for each and every one of us who calls Georgia home – the residents who might someday need the trauma care system.
Research shows that there’s widespread public support for a statewide trauma system in Georgia. The people who live here understand that this affects their quality of life, and they say they’re prepared to pay for it.
With 700 lives at stake each year, it’s time we convert that public will into public policy.
Dr. Harvey is a general surgeon who works in North Atlanta. He chairs MAG’s trauma task force, which serves as an advocate for adequate and sustainable funding for trauma care in the state. With 6,600 members, MAG is the leading voice for physicians in Georgia.