Every year, nearly 130,000 Texans experience a traumatic injury. These are potentially life-threatening injuries stemming from motor vehicle crashes, falls, industrial events, gunshot wounds, and assaults.
On July 7, 2016, the North Texas community was the epicenter of a high-profile, mass-shooting trauma incident when a heavily armed sniper opened fire on Dallas police officers, ultimately killing five and wounding nine other officers and two civilians. In the days and weeks that followed that July night, the life stories of the trauma victims who survived and those who perished were in the national spotlight.
None of us who responded to this tragedy will ever forget the loss, courage, and fortitude of our community that night.
The media attention on this event faded as other events became the focus for news. It’s important to remember that the lifesaving care provided that night is the same care provided every single day and night for all victims of trauma. Trauma is the great medical equalizer–it occurs without regard to race, finance, education, geography, or any other category.
The care provided in the trauma centers is given without question, without hesitation, and with compassion to every trauma patient who comes through the doors. Because that’s what Texas trauma centers and the Texas Trauma System does. It is a resource to the community. It’s why we exist.
And that care deserves support.
Dallas is home to three of the state’s 17 hospitals designated as Level 1 trauma facilities. This is the highest trauma designation a hospital can achieve and signifies it has the most comprehensive and extensive range of specialty services, staff, and equipment to save lives in the event of traumatic injury. More importantly, a Level I designation represents not only an institutional commitment to the excellence in care of the injured, but also a dedication to training future generations of Texas trauma providers at all levels and community response.
Becoming a designated trauma facility and maintaining the level of service required are expensive. Staff, training, equipment, and supplies require significant funding; one estimate puts the average annual cost of supporting a Level I trauma center at more than $20 million. And that’s before the cost of actually providing trauma care.
Each year, Texas trauma centers report more than $300 million in trauma care costs that are not covered by third-party health insurance. At Parkland alone, our uncompensated trauma care costs exceed $67 million. This isn’t too surprising, given the large number of Texans who don’t have health insurance. And trauma does not discriminate: It affects the insured and uninsured alike.
Since 2003, the state has provided funding from a dedicated trauma account to help offset some of these costs. But, right now, the Texas Legislature is meeting in Austin and considering at least four proposals that would eliminate the main source of funding for our trauma centers. Without these funds, fewer hospitals could maintain their trauma services, and fewer Texans in fewer communities would have access to lifesaving trauma care when and where they need it.
Continuing state funding for Texas trauma centers is critical because, each year, 130,000 life stories are at stake. And while we hope this never to be the case, the next life we may have to save could be someone close to you.
Jorie Klein is the director of nursing for the trauma program at the Rees-Jones Trauma Center at Parkland Memorial Hospital. She is the current chair of the Governor’s EMS, Trauma Advisory Council’s Trauma System Committee, and vice-chair of the North Central Texas Trauma Advisory Council.