Time is of the essence when it comes to saving lives, and emergency service agencies throughout Georgia are hoping to create a statewide trauma system to transport patients as quickly as possible after an accident.
They call it the golden hour — the hour after an accident in which a trauma victim has a much higher chance of survival. But many in Georgia are not able to get to a trauma center within an hour of a serious accident.
"This is one issue nobody’s against," said Chad Black, battalion chief with Hall County Fire Services. "Too many are dying in Georgia."
Black said in Georgia, the trauma death rate is higher than the national average. In Georgia, 63 of every 100,000 people die from trauma related injuries, compared to the national average of 56 per 100,000.
If Georgia’s death rate improved to the national average, it would mean a difference of as many as 700 more lives saved every year, he said.
But funding is a problem, and Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, is spearheading efforts to raise support on a county level.
"We’re just trying to come up with a proclamation to encourage legislators," Mack said.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners approved a proclamation of support for the trauma system Thursday, which will be used as a model for other counties across the state.
Mack said she felt more trauma centers are necessary, especially in the southern part of Georgia.
"Once you pass Macon, there’s very little in that area," she said.
Funding is a major hurdle because many of the patients who undergo treatment at trauma centers are unable to pay for it.
"It’s a very costly network to fund and keep," said Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell. "So many trauma centers treat unfunded patients."
Black said Georgia spends an estimated $250 million a year on uncompensated trauma care.
About $85 million would be needed to fund the trauma system, and a continual funding source would need to be established, he said.
"We’ve got to have a funding mechanism in place to at least offset some of this uncompensated trauma losses."
A trauma center is different than a typical emergency room in that they have surgical specialists on board at all times and meet a number of criteria to be prepared for the worst emergency cases 24 hours a day.
In Georgia, only 15 of the state’s 152 acute-care hospitals are designated trauma centers. Both Black and Kimbrell emphasized that the efforts to get a trauma system are in no way an attack on the quality of normal emergency room care.
"It’s matching the patient’s needs to the right hospital," Black said.