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Briefing focuses on trauma center

January 16, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County Hospital Trauma Center's financial troubles were the focal point of a briefing for state lawmakers Tuesday on the need for state aid.

Two Washington County Hospital surgeons spoke to dozens of lawmakers from four committees who had gathered to learn about the issue.

Dr. Karl Riggle explained that for many years, Hagerstown-area surgeons were willing to be on call at the hospital's trauma center for little to no compensation.

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But in recent years, overhead costs have gone up, insurance reimbursements have been cut and the cost of medical malpractice insurance has increased, he said.

Time spent working in the trauma center, which handles an average of two to three patients per day, took surgeons away from their families and busy private practices, he said.

A communication breakdown led the hospital to shut down the trauma center for four months last year, he said.

The community felt that loss, said Dr. Robert L. Brooks, an orthopedic surgeon who is now the hospital's chief administrative doctor.

The hospital agreed to pay $1.7 million to reopen the trauma center, he said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch is making the trauma center issue one of his two top priorities this legislative session.

His proposal calls for direct payments to trauma doctors to reimburse them for treating uninsured and underinsured patients.

The money could come from a $2 per vehicle charge on insurance carriers or an increase in the vehicle registration fee, Busch has said.

A legislative task force laid out an even larger menu of items, including an increase in the alcohol tax or a fee on insured vehicles.

The problem of paying doctors to be on call may be resolved without legislation through the Health Services Cost Review Commission, which distributes insurance premiums to hospitals, Busch has said.

Maryland spends more on its trauma network than any other state, according to research by the Department of Legislative Services.

But its advocates said the system can't be compared to any other. It's considered the best in the world, they said.

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