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Funding key issue in state's trauma-care woes

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Healthcare professionals in Georgia are speaking out about the level of trauma care available to patients, saying those who need it most are often left without viable options.

At the core of the problem, officials say, is a deficit in funding by the state for such services.

Dr. Dennis W. Ashley, chairman of the Georgia Trauma Care Commission and professor of surgery at Mercer University School of Medicine, has been vocal in recent days about the state's need for additional trauma care. Ashley, who also serves as chief of trauma at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, said state lawmakers are well aware of the need for more money to be devoted to the cause.

"Two years ago, legislators approved Senate Bill 60, which said trauma needed to be provided for the state, and that trauma centers needed funding to continue to provide it," said Ashley. "They also said there should be a nine-member commission to oversee and develop a trauma system in Georgia."

However, Ashley said legislators have largely failed to provide the needed funding. The chairman said the group's efforts were aided temporarily last year, thanks to Gov. Sonny Perdue. "The governor put in [a one-time amount] of $58.9 million," said Ashley. "What we need to do now to go into the future, is to get sustainable funding."

Ben Hinson is the president and owner of Mid-Georgia Ambulance in Macon, the largest ambulance service in Georgia outside the Atlanta area. Hinson, who has worked closely with Ashley in the chairman's quest to secure funds for trauma care, said he appreciates the assistance provided last year by lawmakers.

"The state was gracious to give us $58.9 million, and we're going to spend it well," said Hinson. "I hope [legislators] fund us in the next legislative session, and I'm confident they will."

Ashley said approximately $100 million is needed in order to develop a trauma system which can survive in Georgia. That figure, he added, would provide for trauma physicians, emergency medical services and trauma centers themselves.

According to Ashley, there are currently 15 trauma centers in operation in Georgia, with some of those as much as 100 miles away from residents. Four of 15 trauma centers are Level I centers, which are located in Atlanta (Grady Memorial Hospital) , Macon, Augusta and Savannah.

The remaining trauma centers are Level II and Level IV. As a result, said the chairman, some people in the state are unable to receive the care they need in a timely manner.

He said the state must work toward developing a network, whereby patients can get to a trauma center quickly.

"Georgia is above the national average for trauma deaths by 600-700 per year," he said. "Patients are dying because we don't have a good, organized system. We can't afford to walk away without more money."