Senate considers trauma care bill

ATLANTA - A bill introduced into the Senate on Thursday would create a state commission to oversee efforts to improve trauma care in Georgia.

But that would only be a first step. The real work would be finding the money to expand the state's network of trauma centers to fill coverage gaps in large parts of the state, said Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, the legislation's sponsor.

"This is like opening a bank account,'' Staton said during a news conference outlining his bill. "Now, we'll have to do the hard work, which is making sure the money is appropriated.''

Staton headed a Senate committee during the past year that looked for ways to not only to shore up Georgia's existing network of 15 trauma centers, but also to expand the availability of trauma care to areas of Georgia that are largely uncovered.

He said his interest in the issue stems from a car crash four years ago that sent him to the trauma center at Floyd Memorial Hospital in Rome with a broken leg and broken ankle.

Staton said he was lucky that the accident didn't happen in southern Georgia, where there isn't a trauma center near Interstate 75 between Macon and Thomasville.

"If you're on a highway south of Macon and you're unfortunate enough to be in an accident, you could find yourself several hours away from getting to a hospital where you can get the adequate care you need,'' he said. "I don't think that's good enough for Georgia.''

Staton cited statistics showing that Georgia's death rate from traumatic injuries is 20 percent above the national average. Just drawing even with the rest of the nation, he said, would save the lives of about 700 Georgians a year.

Staton's bill would create a nine-member commission to manage a state fund that would be dedicated to trauma care.

He said money from the fund would be used to help hospitals already in the trauma care network improve their services, to entice hospitals not in the network to open new trauma centers and to create a statewide helicopter system specifically to transport trauma victims.

Kevin Bloye, a spokesman for the Georgia Hospital Association, which supports the bill, said an infusion of $80 million to $85 million a year is needed simply to maintain the existing network.

But that would be just represent a down payment. Bloye said Georgia hospitals are losing $250 million a year in uncompensated trauma care.

"The $80 million doesn't make us well,'' added Phil Wolfe, president and CEO of Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville, home to one of the state's trauma centers. "But it helps.''

Gov. Sonny Perdue is supporting the effort with plans to introduce legislation during the next several weeks to crack down on "super speeders'' in Georgia, those who drive more than 20 miles an hour above the speed limit, and earmark the revenue from stiffer fines for trauma care.

But Bloye said that wouldn't bring in nearly enough money.

He said the hospital association also supports funding trauma care with a $5 fee on every car registered in Georgia.

"It would be broad-based and easy to collect,'' Bloye said.

Staton said his study committee considered dipping into car registration fees, a step the state of Maryland already has taken, as well as a $1.16 increase in the surcharge on monthly cell phone bills.

"When you're trying to come up with $85 million in new money, it's not an easy thing to do,'' he said. "It may ultimately require a number of revenue streams.''