Opinion: Texas trauma hospitals need continued state funding
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Photo by Rachel Denny Clow, Caller-Times

Caller Times | Dr. Osbert Blow, Christus Spohn Health System | March 5, 2019

In the early morning of Aug. 21, 2017, on a farm-to-market road in Calallen in the northwest corner of Corpus Christi, a driver made a mistake and a tragedy occurred.

The consequences of that mistake were devastating.

One driver lost his life, and the driver of another vehicle sustained traumatic injuries that most people cannot even imagine.

Trapped in her vehicle with multiple broken bones in her arm, hand, sternum, back and ribs, that driver was ultimately rescued by paramedics and taken to Christus Spohn Shoreline, a designated Level II trauma hospital, where I had the privilege of serving as the trauma medical director.

Paramedics at the crash scene and the team of trauma surgeons and nurses at the hospital worked together to save her life, an almost impossible task as she was 10 minutes from succumbing to irreversible shock. Over the course of several months, through multiple surgeries, medical rehabilitation and physical therapy, this patient became whole again.

That’s what trauma care is. The almost impossible becoming possible. The piecing back together of what looks to be irreparable. For hundreds of thousands of Texans every year who experience falls, assaults, accidents and car crashes.

Designated trauma hospitals are an indispensable part of a trauma system whose sole focus is on saving lives when time is the enemy.

But, right now, the Texas Legislature is meeting in Austin and the future of trauma hospitals is uncertain.

Texas currently has 283 designated trauma hospitals that are staffed and equipped to handle trauma cases at any moment and ready to provide specialized care to any Texan needing it. However, a large amount of trauma care is not paid for. This unpaid care exceeded $320 million for Texas trauma hospitals in 2016. This amount is in addition to the significant annual costs of maintaining the staff, services and equipment required for trauma designation. One estimate puts the average annual cost of supporting a Level I trauma center at more than $20 million.

Since 2003, the Texas Legislature has provided dedicated state funding for the state's trauma hospitals. This funding, combined with federal matching funds, provides approximately $176 million to 283 hospitals. Without these funds, fewer hospitals would be able to maintain their trauma services, and fewer Texans in fewer communities would have access to lifesaving trauma care when and where they need it.

Continuing state funding for Texas trauma hospitals is critical. Texas trauma hospitals are committed to making sure that every trauma patient has the opportunity for a second chance. For the seemingly impossible to become possible. Keeping that promise requires that the state keep its commitment to funding.