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Trauma study panel tours Washington County Hospital

October 10, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A Maryland General Assembly study panel looking for ways to subsidize the state's trauma centers toured Washington County Hospital on Wednesday.

Surcharges on traffic tickets or vehicle insurance premiums are some of the ideas being considered to raise an estimated $20 million to $30 million for trauma centers.

The study panel - made up of lawmakers, health care professionals and citizens - is to make its recommendations to the Maryland General Assembly before January.

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Financial problems at the state's regional trauma centers came to light this summer, when Washington County Hospital closed its Level II trauma center June 1 over a dispute with its surgeons about pay and working conditions.

The trauma center reopened last week as a Level III center, which means surgeons are on call rather than in-house 24 hours a day.

New contracts signed with the surgeons will cost the hospital more than $1.5 million that can't be recovered through the hospital's rates, said James Hamill, president and CEO of the Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company.

Doctors around the state face their own budget squeeze because of rising malpractice insurance rates and the cost of providing care to those without health insurance.

"This is a wakeup call for us as a state," Hamill said.

People in the community didn't realize the significance of the trauma center until it was closed, he said. During that time, more patients were diverted to trauma centers in the Baltimore-Washington area.

"This really does meet a real need in the community and a surprisingly strong psychological need in the community," Hamill said.

Del. John F. Wood Jr., D-St. Mary's, who co-chairs the study panel, agreed.

"They just take it for granted until they need it. And then money is no object," Wood said.

Wood said the state has one of the best trauma systems in the country and lawmakers want to find the money to keep it that way.

Washington County surgeons said they are providing the same high level of care to patients under a Level III designation as they did under Level II.

In the first week that the trauma center officially reopened, surgeons were able to meet patients on arrival in the emergency room for every trauma call, said Dr. Karl Riggle, administrator director of the trauma program.

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