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Trauma care, a year alter

August 15, 2003

A year after the shutdown of the Washington County Hospital's trauma center, the only gripes being aired publicly are coming from drivers who don't understand why their annual vehicle-registration fees have gone up. What's most remarkable about the situation is what's not happening.

Patients are no longer being flown to the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore on a routine basis and doctors and the hospital administration here are no longer at odds. How those two things were accomplished is worth remembering, if only because it shows how government can work on behalf of the people.

The trauma center shut down because of problems that affected centers all across the state. Faced with falling reimbursements from insurance companies and the government, trauma surgeons with private practices were being forced to work longer and longer hours to cover their office overhead. When the doctors and the hospital were unable to agree on how to relieve their distress, the doctors forced the issue, leading to the center's shutdown.

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Fortunately, one of the state lawmakers studying the problem was Del. Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel. Busch, now Speaker of the House, had seen a member of his own family saved by a Maryland-trained trauma surgeon and was committed to finding a solution that would keep all the centers in Maryland open.

Part of that solution involves more money, which is why there's been a $2.50-per-year increase in the state's motor vehicle registration fee. Other increases may be necessary in the future to keep covering trauma center costs.

We disagree with Busch on some issues, such a free-standing slot-machine parlors, but on this one, he was right on target. There are significant costs involved in running what has become one of the best trauma care systems in the world and the cash has to come from somewhere. Because the vast majority of trauma cases come from motor-vehicle accidents, drivers are being tapped for some cash.

They may gripe now, but when an accident takes place, they and their families want to know that they'll get the best care possible. As a result of the settlement crafted last year, they'll get it, and at a bargain price.

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