State trauma care campaign is launched

ALBANY, Ga. -- The "Yes 2 Save Lives" campaign, designed to urge voters to support a trauma care system in Georgia, was launched Sept. 15.

Amendment 2, a measure that would impose a $10 registration fee on vehicles to raise funds for a state trauma care system, will be on the ballot in November.

Georgia has 16 designated trauma centers but needs at least 30 to meet the population's needs, officials say. Currently, one in 10 people lives too far from a trauma center to receive care.

Of the 16 state trauma centers, only three are located south of Macon. Even though residents in the Atlanta area have better access to trauma care, there are still a number of improvements that need to be made in that region of the state.

"Even in urban areas, centers are hurting financially," explained Dr. James Barber, an orthopedic surgeon at Coffee Regional Medical Center in Douglas.

Health care officials say there is a window of 60 minutes after a serious injury -- known as "the golden hour" -- in which a patient needs to get care. For children, the window is 30 minutes, experts say.

"There are a lot of unnecessary deaths in the state," said Barber. "For me, the practical need is peace of mind that I'll be taken care of. If I'm in a terrible accident, my family could not get to a trauma center fast enough."

The trauma center typically utilized by Coffee Regional Medical Center is Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, more than a two-hour drive. But because there is no formal system in place, physicians many times find themselves calling around to trauma centers in the state to determine who will take a patient.

"We need a centralized place we can call," Barber said. "In our hospital, we are doing the best we can. Some things we are able to handle, but other things need to go to a trauma center."

For Good Life City residents, the closest trauma center is at Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville, which takes patients from as far away as Albany and Tifton.

"It's all about the patient," said Kelli Vaughn, trauma coordinator at Archbold. "When you have a trauma system, resources are there no matter where (the patients) are.

"Once a trauma occurs, the faster we get a trauma center to assess the patient the better outcome they are going to have."

Having a formal system in place would also allow trauma coordinators in the state to ramp up education efforts for injury prevention and better gauge what injuries are happening in certain areas of the state and why.

"I think everyone would benefit," Vaughn said. "We need a more inclusive system. We are already doing some of this, but we need a statewide effort."

Georgia's trauma death rate is 20 percent higher than the national average due to limited trauma care facilities and staffing.

"That's 400-700 lives per year," said Dr. Dennis Ashley, campaign spokesman and trauma services chief at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. "The death rate goes up as you get farther away (from a trauma center). We want to get the death rate down.

"It doesn't take long to get away from a trauma center."

Unlike an emergency room, which deals with a wide range of issues, a trauma center has doctors and nurses on staff who deal specifically with trauma injury.

"There are over 100 hospitals in Georgia, but only 16 trauma centers," Ashley said. "They (trauma centers) have a team ready to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to deal with trauma injuries. Not all ERs are like that."

The car tag fee, if passed, is expected to generate $80 million annually.

The funds would go toward training more 911 professionals as well as first responders and emergency care staff, equipping trauma centers with up-to-date technology and upgrading more emergency rooms to trauma centers.

The money would also go to maintaining a central communications hub so that physicians don't have to make phone calls to various trauma centers throughout Georgia to see which will take a patient.

"We have a plan, it just takes funding," Ashley said. "The vote is critical; it's no good to have a plan if we can't implement it.

"We want to get it (the death rate) to the national average or better. That's our goal. We are not just going out to build new hospitals but to boost (existing hospitals) to trauma center level."

The money will go into a designated trust fund and can only be used for trauma care improvements as determined by the Georgia Trauma Commission.

"I have a lot of faith (in the commission), in how they handle funds," Barber said. "They will use the dollars wisely."

For more information on the "Yes 2 Save Lives" movement, call (404) 880-3460 or visit www.yes2savelives.com.