Health officer says Mississippi’s trauma system struggling

Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mississippi’s trauma care system is “falling apart” because of underfunding, a lack of some hospitals’ participation and infrastructure problems caused by Hurricane Katrina, says State Health Officer Dr. Brian Amy.

Amy, who is executive director of the state Department of Health, told lawmakers on Monday his agency needs $35 million for the system in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The amount is part of a 71 percent increase in state funding the Health Department is requesting for fiscal year 2008. The agency received $32.6 million for the current year. The FY 2008 budget request is $55.9 million.

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Amy said the sizable increase for the trauma system will make a dent in the program’s uncompensated care costs, which is treatment that is not covered by insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. Amy said uncompensated costs grew from $40 million in 2001 to $110 million in 2005.

The Trauma Care Act, passed by the Legislature in 1998, established a network of hospitals designed to treat people in the first hour after an accident.

Participation is voluntary, but all hospitals are encouraged to join. The University of Mississippi Medical Center is the state’s only top-level trauma care hospital, capable of around-the-clock care of the most critically injured.

When the system was created, it was funded with $6 million from the state’s Health Care Trust Fund plus $5 per traffic violation, which generates about $2 million a year. That money is used to reimburse participating hospitals and physicians for uninsured patients who can’t pay.

Amy told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Monday that some hospitals only have minimum participation, if any. He also said Katrina damaged many health facilities on the coast, and that is having a ripple effect across the state.

Sen. Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, said he believes Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula is the only facility in his area that fully participates in the program. He said Memorial Hospital in Gulfport doesn’t take a large number of trauma patients.

“If they’re not going to treat them at Memorial Hospital, why are they receiving funds that should be going to these hospitals that’s actually doing the treatment?” Robertson said. “I want us to cut out sending money to those hospitals that are not participating.”

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said lawmakers are partly to blame for underfunding the system.

“We are really in this state to the point that we ought to abolish the trauma system. It is so grossly underfunded that it is doomed from the minute the accident happens because there is not enough money to take care of it,” Holland said.

Amy said his agency is studying ways to improve the trauma system, but some changes would take legislative action.

Amy’s said his budget request also includes funding for pandemic flu planning. State and federal officials have begun planning for early detection and control of an outbreak of a deadly bird flu strain in the United States.

The federal government has recommended that states have enough antivirals to treat 25 percent of the population. Mississippi’s cost to purchase antivirals for some 732,000 people, mainly emergency responders, would be about $5 million. The federal government would pay about $11 million.

“These won’t be the only antivirals. Some can be purchased in the private sector,” Amy said.

The Budget Committee, which is gathering information to make spending recommendations to lawmakers before the 2007 Legislature convenes in January, on Monday also heard from the Mississippi Department of Education, which is requesting a 15 percent increase, or $319 million, in state funding for FY 2008.

Mississippi Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds said $10 million would be used to begin a pilot preschool project and $24 million would go toward the first phase of his proposed high school redesign plan, which would focus on putting students on a career track.