Amendment 2 would fund trauma care

ALBANY, Ga. -- After Georgia's "super-speeder" law failed to pull together the funding anticipated for a statewide trauma care network, officials began a new campaign to help jump-start a centralized system.

"Georgia has been in a state of crisis for some time," said Kevin Bloye, vice president of public relations for the Georgia Hospital Association.

Talks regarding what to do with Georgia's trauma care system started under the Gold Dome four years ago, at which time officials began hearing from representatives at the 16 current trauma centers on how difficult it is just to function.

"Many were considering getting out of the trauma business," Bloye said. "Some say it is a stretch to call it a system. It's a non-system."

Officials say a minimum of 30 centers are needed to meet Georgia's needs. That is why Amendment 2, if passed, would put a $10 fee on a person's annual car tag to go toward a trust fund for the purpose of rebuilding the system.

Unlike an emergency room, which deals with a broad range of issues, trauma centers are especially equipped to deal with serious injuries 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are ranked from Level 1 to Level 4, with Level 1 being the most comprehensive.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital has committed to become a Level 2 trauma center should Amendment 2 pass.

"We are providing care, but we are not doing it the best way," said Phoebe Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Doug Patten of why the hospital has not established a center yet.

Phoebe sees approximately 500 serious traumas a year, which would put the hospital below the threshold needed to be a Level 1 center. "A Level 1 sees roughly 1,000 trauma cases and has an operating room dedicated just to trauma 24 hours a day," Patten explained. "We could grow into a Level 1."

Trauma centers may also be opened in Tifton and Valdosta should those hospitals commit, Bloye said.

The amendment, which is expected to raise $80 million a year, would fund training for emergency staff at hospitals committing to establish a trauma center, bring current centers up to date and create a central communications hub to help paramedics better determine where a patient needs to go.

"They are sending them where they think they will get the best care; they just aren't getting any guidance," Patten said.

Officials admit that the timing is bad but also point out this is a case in which the benefits far and above outweigh the negatives.

"If we had done this three years ago, it would have been a slam dunk," Bloye said. "The element of distrust is at an ultimate high.

"The hospitals providing trauma care are losing money, so this will save money in the long run. If it doesn't pass, who knows what will happen. This is truly an issue of life and death."

Passage of the amendment would also establish a locked trust fund so that the money can never be used for anything other than trauma care.

"The voters are actually getting a lot of authority," said Yes to Save Lives campaign spokesman Dr. Dennis Ashley.

Mike Sabot, who is associated with the Albany Area tea party, said the skepticism from his circle is coming from uncertainty as to whether Southwest Georgia will actually benefit.

"There is no guarantee it will go to Phoebe or Tifton," he said. "The only guarantee is that (the fund) will be spent on trauma. Nobody is really against it (the amendment), just the way it's written. Everyone is afraid it will go to Atlanta."

Passage of the super-speeder law has resulted in the state raising $2 million of the $23 million officials had hoped it would in its first year.

"It was never meant to be the primary funding mechanism," Ashley said. "It's just a small piece. It's a Band-Aid holding this together."

Should Amendment 2 fail, the super-speeder law will be the only source of funding for the trauma system.

Georgia's death rate from trauma is 20 percent higher than the national average, which translates into roughly 700 more lives per year that are lost.

"This isn't something you want to lead the state in," said Ashley. "I pay a lot of taxes; I'm anti-tax to the bottom line, but I've learned to evaluate things down to a single entity. I can no longer stand black or white on this issue.

"It's worth $10 if we can go without telling folks a family member is gone. It is worth it to save a loved one's life. It comes down to that choice."

Eric Riggle, spokesman for Palmyra Medical Center, said the hospital wished not to contribute to this story.