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Health Board OKs Trauma System Rules

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The state Board of Health gave preliminary approval Thursday to rules for hospitals that would participate in a statewide trauma system, if Arkansas adopts such a system.

It is the latest step by health officials determined to get a statewide system to coordinate emergency medical care, after legislation for a trauma system failed last year when the House and Senate deadlocked over how to pay for it. Health officials estimate having a trauma system would save 200 to 600 lives a year by speeding up how quickly trauma patients get needed medical care.

Arkansas is the only state without a Level 1 trauma center and one of only three states without a trauma system.

"We all know that injury is the leading cause of death for Arkansans from age 1 to 44," said Paul Halverson, director of the Arkansas Department of Health, at the board meeting Thursday.

A trauma system would be key to reducing those deaths, he said. A trauma is any sudden, serious injury from an external force, such as a car accident, electric shock or gunshot wound.

Injuries killed 5,718 Arkansans and hospitalized 45,865 between 1999 and 2001, according to Health Department data.

Children are particularly vulnerable. Unintentional injury, which excludes suicide attempts, caused nearly 60 percent, or 169 deaths of people between age 1 and 19 in 2002.

Gov. Mike Beebe showed his support for a trauma system last month, by setting aside $200,000 from the $500,000-a-year Governor's Emergency Fund to help collect data about the state's emergency medical facilities and their needs.

A proposal for a statewide trauma system is expected to be ready to go before legislators during the 2009 session, which starts in January.

The rules and regulations for hospitals were developed by the Governor's Trauma Advisory Council, which is working with Health Department officials, legislators and physicians around the state to lay the foundation for that proposal.

The draft rules are available at the department Web site www.healthyarkansas.com, and will be the subject of a public hearing Sept. 4 at 1:30 p.m. in Room 801 of the Freeway Medical Building, 5800 W. 10th St. in Little Rock.

The rules also will be considered by two legislative committees: the Arkansas Legislative Council's Administrative Rules and Regulations Committee and the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

"If all goes well, we'll have them back on the [Health] Board agenda by the October meeting," said Rick D. Hogan, general counsel for the Health Department.

The rules lay out criteria for hospitals on what they will need to qualify as a trauma center. Centers will be designated on four levels based on the kind of emergency care they can provide.

For example, Level 1 trauma centers would have to offer a variety of services and specialists, including brain, heart and orthopedic surgeons, because they would treat patients with the most serious and complex injuries.

Level 4 centers, on the other hand, have fewer requirements. They would typically be small rural hospitals required only to have an emergency department and staff, including a general surgeon and registered nurse.

The Arkansas Hospital Association supports the proposed rules, said Russ Sword, a member of the association's board of directors and chief executive officer of Ashley County Medical Center in Crossett.

Jack Porter, president of the state Board of Health and a dentist in Hot Springs, said the rules will continue to be revised as needed.

"This is a document in progress," he said.

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