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Final fix for trauma center up to the General Assembly

October 04, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Washington County Hospital's Trauma Center has reopened, giving residents of the region a level of health care they haven't had since the center closed June 1. Now it's up to the Maryland General Assembly to provide some funding to fix problems affecting the system statewide.

The center reopened Wednesday as a Level III center, which means that trauma surgeons will be on call, rather than at the facility 24 hours a day, as required under the previous Level II designation. In an August meeting in Annapolis, hospital officials agreed to pay the on-call surgeons until the legislature comes up with another method of reimbursing them.

The possibilities include a $1 or $2 charge on every automobile or motorcycle insurance policy, which would raise as estimated $8 million a year, according to Del. Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, a member of the state's trauma task force.

But $8 million might not be enough, according to the co-chair of the task force, Del. John Wood Jr., D-St. Mary's, Charles. This past summer Wood said that centers all over the state are having the same problems as Hagerstown's - more patients and less reimbursement from insurers - which means the cost of fixing the system might be $20 million a year.

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To raise more cash, lawmakers have also looked at the idea of a surcharge on every moving traffic violation, but no estimates of how much could be raised have been released so far.

The larger question Maryland and other states face is how to pay for health care costs - including ambulance transports - when the demand for service is increasing. Joe Kroboth, Director of Emergency Services for Washington County, said this week that last year the county's 911 center received 70,000 calls, up from 62,000 the year before.

If this summer's difficulties have shown elected officials anything, it's that with an increasing volume of work, any system that depends on the labor of those who aren't adequately reimbursed - in this case it's the doctors - will be overwhelmed if it doesn't get some help. Now it's up to the legislature to provide it.

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