The tragedy that struck West earlier this month highlighted the importance of local hospitals and first responders who swung into action, providing experience, hard work and dedication to serve in time of crisis.
As a result, lives were saved.
The region’s hospitals have come to rely on the highly skilled staff members who were on duty or came back to the hospitals to help during the crisis. They were there – waiting and ready – before EMS delivered its first patients. The response by Central Texas hospitals was astounding. Their professionalism and training was evident as hospital officials communicated on live television to brief a shocked and concerned national community. Their response was no different than those we witnessed from other Texas hospitals, like those in Southeast Texas who served their community so ably when Hurricane Ike struck in 2008.
Beyond the lifesaving medical care provided, these tragic events also remind us that demand for a robust trauma system can spike at any moment.
Being prepared is a vital part of our trauma system’s success.
Certainly, Texas hospitals and trauma providers will not face disaster and destruction every day. Still, these incidents are not fleeting for our health care professionals who prepare every day for the next time they are needed. Ensuring our infrastructure is secure requires a long-term ability to meet the public’s health care needs in times of crisis.
As the population grows, Texas hospitals are seeing increased demand and strain on trauma care services in both rural and urban areas. Hospitals face severe pressure to ensure continued investments in adequate trauma facilities. Annually, Texas hospitals afford $200 million in uncompensated trauma care to those who do not have health insurance. Since 2004, Texas hospitals have provided more than $2 billion in uncompensated trauma care.
At the same time, programs established to provide vital sources of trauma funding to offset shortfalls from uncompensated trauma care are being threatened. In 2011, and again this year, some Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation that would suspend collection of fines and surcharges in the Driver Responsibility Program, which generates approximately $133 million per year for the Designated Trauma Facility and EMS Account 5111. Still, these funds are not always fully allocated and prioritized by state budget writers as intended for trauma care.
Without a crisis in the headlines, it is easy to put trauma funding at the bottom of the “to do” list. But, as we all saw, the disaster in West, coming on the heels of the bombings in Boston, show how critical it is for our local communities to be fully prepared when disaster does strike. Staffing and equipping trauma centers and emergency departments 24 hours a day, seven days a week is costly, and providing this level of care in a state with an uninsured rate of 25 percent adds to that expense.
No one should have to experience what the West community endured, but it is a solemn reminder that our state can and should ensure our hospitals are properly prepared and funded to be ready in a time of crisis.
About the THA
Founded in 1930, the Texas Hospital Association is the leadership organization and principal advocate for the state’s hospitals and health care systems. Based in Austin, THA enhances its members’ abilities to improve accessibility, quality and cost-effectiveness of health care for all Texans. One of the largest hospital associations in the country, THA represents more than 85 percent of the state’s acute-care hospitals and health care systems, which employ some 369,000 health care professionals statewide. Learn more about THA at www.tha.org or follow THA on Twitter @texashospitals.