Amendment 2: Why Hospitals Are Seeking Trauma Care Funding

October 20, 2010

On November 02, Georgia voters will be asked to choose whether the state constitution should be amended to require an annual $10 fee for certain motor vehicles, with an estimated $80 million in resulting revenues to go directly to fund trauma centers across the state. With Georgia leading the nation in unemployment and bankruptcy, increased fees of all kinds are receiving extra scrutiny from citizens struggling to make ends meet. In deciding how they will cast their vote on Amendment 2, some voters may be asking, “Why is this important for me and my family?”

While it is easy to assume that every hospital emergency room is equipped to handle traumatic injuries, unfortunately, that is not the case. In short, Georgia’s existing trauma system is woefully inadequate. An infusion of resources is vital if the state wants to improve emergency care and save countless lives. There are, on average, 40,000 cases of major trauma that occur in Georgia each year. Of that number, an estimated 700 Georgians lose their lives every year as a direct result of our state’s weak trauma network, a figure that is 20 percent above the national average.

The reality is that the vast majority of Georgia hospitals are ill-equipped to handle traumatic injuries. Of the 152 acute care hospitals in Georgia, only 15 have trauma centers. Of those 15, only four—located in Atlanta, Macon, Augusta and Savannah—are Level I certified, meaning they are best able to handle the most daunting injuries. The importance of access to a Level I trauma center cannot be underestimated; a patient’s chances of survival improves by an estimated 20 to 25 percent when treated at a Level I trauma center.

Particularly for those in southwest Georgia, care for a life-threatening injury is truly a race against the clock, as the first 60 minutes following a traumatic injury are the most crucial in determining a life or death outcome. For children, that window of time is only a grim 30 minutes.

“Many Georgians live at least two hours away from the closest trauma center,” said Michelle Putnam, executive director of HealthSTAT, an Atlanta-based nonprofit health advocacy organization. “Realistically, we need 30 trauma centers in our state, staffed with trained nurses and specialty physicians that are able to handle serious traumatic accidents. Every county needs enough ambulances and emergency medical technicians and the ability for them to communicate with each other. However, we currently have no sustainable source of funding that’s dedicated solely toward establishing a statewide trauma network, which is why passing Amendment 2 is so important.”

There is some understandable concern among voters about where the funds received through Amendment 2 will go and whether the standard of trauma care in Georgia will actually improve. Generally, when Georgia’s state legislature passes a law that generates revenue, the collected money goes straight into Georgia’s general fund. For better or worse, the general fund depends on political compromise and is distributed as legislators see fit. Fortunately for Georgians, Amendment 2 gives voters the chance to bypass this option and amend the state constitution, creating a dedicated funding source that isn’t subject to party politics. When the Georgia constitution indicates a specific use for state funds, those funds must be used for that purpose alone. Georgians wondering if their money will help save lives can know with certainty that every cent will be used to build up the state’s trauma care capacity.

When you vote on November 02, you will be asked, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to impose an annual $10.00 trauma charge on certain passenger motor vehicles in this state for the purpose of funding trauma care?” If Amendment 2 passes, it means that upgrades at hospitals across the state will be fully funded to help protect the lives of people who have been critically injured. When you go to the polls, Georgia Watch and the Hospital Accountability Project urge you to consider the value and importance of a statewide trauma network for the relatively small price of $10.

For a full interview with Michelle Putnam on trauma care in Georgia, check out the Georgia Watch Hospital Accountability Project website by clicking here.