A report by the Department of Audits and Accounts for the House Appropriations Committee and released Friday, noted that 52 percent of emergency patients are treated by trauma centers, up from 49 percent five years ago.
It also reported that the number of designated trauma centers rose from 15 in 2007 to 21, reversing projections that lack of funding was forcing several hospitals to close their centers.
Since 2010, they have received about $15 million per year in fines from the Super Speeder program that penalizes highway drivers for going more than 20 mph over the speed limit. Voters defeated a measure that year that would have added a $10 fee to car tags to fund the network with another $80 million annually.
The addition of Athens Regional Medical Center as a Level II trauma center in 2010, for instance, increased the percentage of patients in the region living within 25 miles of a trauma center from 34 to 90.
But in many parts of South Georgia, there is no Level I or II trauma center nearby. In the Southeast, many patients are transported to Shands Medical Center in Jacksonville, but still only 61 percent of that population is within a 50 mile drive. Residents of Brunswick are more than 50 miles from Jacksonville or Memorial Health in Savannah.
“There is currently no strategic plan for the desired number and type of trauma centers and where they should be located, though the (Georgia Trauma Care Network) Commission intends to have criteria in place by June 2013,” the auditors wrote.
In addition to criticizing the lack of a strategic plan, the report also said emergency care suffers from muddled leadership. The existence of the commission and the state Office of Emergency Medical Service and Trauma creates confusion because they have overlapping authority and do not share data, the auditors note.
“For example, though the commission is responsible for studying trauma care services and OEMST houses useful data on trauma center and EMS activities, we noted that the entities have not collaborated to develop a performance improvement plan for the state’s trauma system. The commission plans to have a performance measurement program in place by June 2014,” the auditors wrote.
They also recommended ample funding to strengthen the network in areas of greatest need.
Rep. Terry England, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the flu has prevented him from digesting the auditors’ report. He could not say whether legislation would address funding or the overlapping responsibilities.