Remember trauma care? It’s time we did

By Matt Caseman
Matt Caseman

Lack of trauma care remains the single most critical issue facing our state.

The hard reality is that Georgia still needs a dedicated revenue stream to upgrade and expand its trauma center network. Thirty-three states have found ways to permanently fund trauma care, but our state lags behind.

Here are some facts:

•  Georgia has 150 acute-care hospitals, but it has only 15 designated trauma care centers.

•  More than 1 million Georgians live at least 50 miles from a Level 1 trauma center, the kind that handles the most serious cases. That distance makes it virtually impossible to get them to such a facility within the “golden hour” — the period after a major trauma when emergency responders have the greatest chance to save a life. Many Georgians commute through areas that are similarly remote from lifesaving facilities.

•  In metro Atlanta, there’s one fatality in every 339 accidents. In rural Georgia, it’s one fatality in every 74 accidents. (Georgia defines a rural county as having a population of 35,000 or less, and 108 of the state’s 159 counties are in that category.)

In the 2010 legislative session, the General Assembly came together over the need to fund trauma services. It passed Senate Resolution 277, which asked voters to change the Georgia Constitution by adding $10 to each vehicle registration fee. If the initiative had passed, the new fee would have provided approximately $80 million annually for trauma care.

Sadly, the initiative was defeated, with only 47 percent of voters supporting it. The momentum to do something about trauma care was temporarily lost.

In the 2011 session, Sen. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas) introduced SR 140, which would dedicate funds for trauma care from existing tag fees already paid to the state. Because of Georgia’s $1.5 billion shortfall at the time, Sen. Goggans said he would wait until January 2012 to push the measure, if revenues increased.

That time has arrived, the economic outlook has improved in Georgia, and SR 140 deserves immediate consideration.

Along with Sen. Goggans, there have been countless champions for more trauma care funding, and they all should be commended for their passion and commitment. From the business community to elected officials, to those on the front lines keeping people alive, these fine individuals have done their part.

To those united in their passion for improving health care in rural counties, I want to say, “Thank you.”

I would also ask our citizens to be aware of how critical this issue is to our state. Expanding trauma care for all Georgians will save lives, and we should not wait any longer.

Matt Caseman is executive director of the Georgia Rural Health Association,  a nonprofit network of health care providers, educators, and individuals united in a commitment to improve the health and health care services of rural Georgians.