ATLANTA -- The state Legislature provided $23 million for Georgia's trauma care hospitals, less than half the money they received last year. That worries advocates who fear the cut will endanger service at the 15 trauma hospitals.
"It's not enough to sustain the system, let alone build it," said Art Kellermann, associate dean for health policy at Emory School of Medicine.
Wide swaths of the state, especially in rural North and South Georgia, are far away from the expert care of a designated trauma center.
More than 1 million Georgians live more than 50 miles from a trauma center, which offers more specialized services than a regular emergency room. That puts these Georgians beyond the "golden hour" when emergency caregivers have the greatest chance to save someone's life.
State researchers say 700 Georgians die annually because of Georgia's spotty trauma coverage.
The state's struggling trauma care network needs $80 million a year to shore up these hospitals and to expand services to underserved areas, advocates say.
These advocates, physicians, hospital officials and EMS administrators, say they're grateful to get $23 million in such a grim economic climate when state agencies sustained deep cuts.
But concerns are heightening that some of the 15 trauma hospitals will have to reduce their level of service or simply offer general emergency room care. A half-dozen hospitals have left the system over the years.
"They can only hang on so long," said Kevin Bloye, spokesman for the Georgia Hospital Association.
Many of the 15 trauma hospitals lose millions providing trauma service, as it requires expensive equipment and medical specialists to be on call, if not on site, at all hours.
Grady Memorial Hospital, metro Atlanta's only Level One trauma hospital for the most serious injuries, loses about $40 million a year on trauma care. Grady received about $13 million last year in trauma funds.It should expect even less this year, advocates say.
Grady hospital officials say it's too early to assess the impact of this year's reduced funding. But they note that the hospital is already under financial stress due to government cuts and an increase in uninsured patients.
Advocates say there is little chance that the system can grow without significantly more state funding to entice other hospitals to carry these services.
"That's a tragedy for Georgia. We're talking about people's lives," Bloye said.
The $23 million will come from Gov. Sonny Perdue's "super speeder" plan, which levies additional $200 fines against drivers traveling 85 mph or faster on highways and interstates, or 75 mph or higher on two-lane roads.
Last year, Perdue provided a one-time budget figure of $59 million for trauma care. Before that, the system received no direct state allocation. Advocates praised the "super speeder" money as it is expected to provide more stable funding, year after year.
Officials at Atlanta Medical Center, a Level Two trauma center, said they had no plans to cut trauma services at this time, due to the cuts.
The state trauma commission determines the allocation to each trauma center.