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Hospitals Called On to Back Trauma Care

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Before legislators create a statewide trauma system and a way to pay for it, lawmakers should meet soon with hospital executives to make sure hospitals would participate in it, the Senate Democratic leader said Thursday.

"We need to have these hospital CEOs here where we can look at them," Tracy Steele, D North Little Rock, told fellow lawmakers during a meeting of the Legislative Council's Hospital and Medicaid Study Subcommittee, of which he is a cochairman.

"If this was so great, they would have already been here," he said. "If [participation in the system] is voluntary, we raise $35 million, these hospitals opt out, you know who is going to get the blame? It's going to be us.

"I don't really see where a lackluster, half [of the] hospitals participating, half not wanting to participate, system would give us what we want," he said. "And if they opt out are they under any obligation to provide trauma services to the people because they are not part of the system? Would they turn away people at the door?" Joe Thompson, the state's surgeon general, said the Arkansas Hospital Association and the hospitals, and the Arkansas Medical Society and the doctors support creating a statewide trauma system because they recognize the need.

"Everybody says we need [a trauma system], but I don't see a whole lot of people line up to say, `We want to get involved and do it,'" Steele said.

"I think we can bring those people and look forward to helping make that happen with you," Thompson replied.

He said it would probably be at least 18 months before a system would be operational "if we do everything as fast as we can." Afterward, Bo Ryall, executive vice president of the hospital association, said it would be good idea for hospital executives to meet with lawmakers.

He doesn't expect "a lot of pullback" from hospitals about creating a statewide trauma system, Ryall said.

"Hospitals want to participate. They want to make it better," he said.

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

Paul Halverson, director of the state Health Department, said creating a statewide trauma system would save a minimum of 200 lives a year in Arkansas by speeding up how quickly trauma patients get needed medical care.

Last year, the Senate and the House failed to reach agreement on legislation to fund such a system.

Gov. Mike Beebe last month set aside $200,000 from the $500,000-a-year Governor's Emergency Fund to help the Health Department take stock of emergency medical facilities in the state over the next several months in a step toward establishing a system to coordinate trauma care.

The state Board of Health also has given preliminary approval to rules for hospitals that would participate in such a system.

Halverson said neither he nor Beebe is prepared yet to recommend how to fund such a system.

The Governor's Trauma Advisory Council has drafted a $35 million-a-year proposal for such a system, but hasn't signed off on the proposal, he said.

Rep. Gene Shelby, D-Hot Springs, has said he's considering proposing a bill to raise Arkansas' cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack to help pay for a system. The tax is now 59 cents per pack.

Rep. Pam Adcock, D-Little Rock, said she doesn't want to tax only a specific group of people to pay for a statewide trauma system.

Steele said he hopes lawmakers don't rule out using general revenue to pay for a system.

"I think that certainly needs to be an option that we consider, even if we have to cut somewhere else, if this is that important," he said.

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