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Trauma Chief Says Funds Key to Statewide Net

ATLANTA -- A full-fledged statewide trauma system could be up and running within five years if the General Assembly would approve a permanent funding stream, the head of the state's trauma commission said Wednesday.



Dennis Ashley, chairman of the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, made the comments during a forum exploring how other states have developed regional approaches to trauma care.



Trauma hospitals, which handle the most severely injured patients from incidents like gunshot wounds and traffic accidents, are under severe financial strain because of declining payments from patients without health insurance and from taxpayer-funded health-care programs like Medicaid.



Ashley said his commission is developing a list of hospitals and emergency medical services providers that would be part of a full-fledged network.



"Then, with the sustainable funding ... we need to go out and aggressively recruit centers," he said.



That could be finished in three to five years, he said.



Taking a regional approach to trauma is critical, experts say, because severely injured patients who make it to the right hospital within an hour are far more likely to survive than those who don't. Regional networks focus on spreading trauma centers with different levels of care throughout the state and connecting them with a web of ambulance and medical helicopter operations.



There are currently 15 trauma-care centers in Georgia. That includes four of the best-equipped Level I centers, though Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah is the only one located south of Macon.



Despite promises from legislative leaders, the General Assembly has failed for two straight years to pass a source of funding dedicated to the trauma care hospitals and emergency medical services. Lawmakers did set aside almost $60 million in one-time funding for the network in the budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30.



But with the state looking to shed $1.6 billion from its budget for the current spending year, some are worried that the General Assembly will be unable to find any money for the trauma network when lawmakers return to Atlanta next year unless they approve a new fee on car registration or on phone bills.



"This cannot be tied to the budget every year," Ashley said. "We just have to get over that last hurdle of getting sustainable funding."



Trauma care centers have insisted on a permanent funding source to help them stay afloat as they offer the costly trauma services.



"If we don't get funding, they're not going to do it," said Gage Ochsner, chief of trauma services and surgical critical care at Memorial University Medical Center. "This isn't posturing; it's a fiscal reality."



brandon.larrabee@morris.com, (678) 977-3709



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