Trauma programs Texas Legislature puts emergency care at risk


No Texan plans to be admitted to a hospital for a traumatic injury.

We simply don’t know when any of us might be involved in a motor vehicle crash or suffer a gunshot wound, assault or fall. But there is one thing you should know: If you experience a traumatic injury, the skilled hands at Texas trauma centers are waiting for you. The centers and those who work in them have been specially trained through rigorous guidelines and they wear their trauma designation badge proudly.

However, several bills in front of the Texas Legislature could put some of these trauma programs in jeopardy.

Tarrant County is home to three of the state’s 24 hospitals designated as Level 1 and 2 trauma facilities – the top two tiers of trauma designation a hospital can achieve. And believe me, these designations are not easily obtained. These top-tier trauma designations signify a hospital’s commitment to excellence in care of the injured and a dedication to providing an extensive range of specialty services, staff and equipment to save lives in the event of traumatic injury.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

The road to designation is a long and expensive one for a hospital and maintaining the level of service required comes with a hefty price tag. One estimate puts the average annual cost of supporting a top-tier trauma center at about $20 million.

And that, of course, is before the cost of providing trauma care.

Each year, Texas trauma centers report more than $300 million in trauma care costs that are not covered by third-party health insurance. That’s because the number of trauma injuries throughout the state is staggering: every year nearly 130,000 people in Texas experience a traumatic injury. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Tarrant County sees more than 13,000 of those trauma cases annually and the state funding for this program is vital to these trauma centers.

Simply put, trauma is the great medical equalizer: It does not care about your education, race, financial situation or any other category. It can happen to anyone.

- Advertisement -

And so, the care provided at trauma centers is the same: It is given without question, without hesitation and with compassion to every trauma patient who comes through the doors. Texas trauma centers and the Texas Trauma System are a valuable resource to the community. It’s why we exist. And that care deserves support.

Since 2003, through the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) the state has provided funding from a dedicated trauma account to help offset some of the uncompensated costs incurred by hospitals to run trauma designated programs. The Legislature is considering several proposals that would eliminate a vital source of funding for our trauma centers throughout the state.

I urge our state legislators to consider the importance of this issue. Modifying or repealing the DRP are good options if – and only if – uncompensated trauma care funding is adequately maintained or replaced. (Senate Bill 266 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, would modify the program, while House Bill 2068 by Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, would repeal it.) Trauma center leaders continue to oppose legislation that would repeal the DRP without replacing the critical trauma funding needed (HB 67, HB 275, SB 90 and SB 661). The DRP allows the state to levy surcharges on drivers for certain traffic offenses, with the money collected going to trauma centers and the state’s general fund.

Without these funds, some hospitals may not be able to maintain their trauma designation and services, which means many Texans in many communities could find themselves without timely access to lifesaving trauma care. This funding is not only important, it’s critical for trauma care throughout the state.

- Advertisement -

Preserving this trauma center funding is critical for the safety and well-being of Texans far and wide. It’s impossible to know when you or someone you love might need the skilled hands at one of our state’s trauma centers. If that day comes, this funding will help us continue to stand ready.

Jeffrey Canose, M.D., FACHE is chairman of the Texas Hospital Association and chief operating officer and senior executive vice president at Arlington-based Texas Health Resources.