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Trauma centers feel the pinch, too

Like everything else in the state, trauma centers at hospitals will see their funding get cut, and they are warning about the consequences.

The officials from Memorial Hermann, Ben Taub and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston came together to say the Legislature’s proposal to allot trauma centers nearly 20 percent less than usual from the state’s dedicated fund will have tragic consequences.

“When we don’t have enough funding, we have to divert patients to other hospital ERs,” said Dr. John Holcomb, chief of trauma surgery at Memorial Hermann. “Studies show that when diversion goes up, delaying care, mortality goes up.”

There’s a dedicated fund that was created in 2003 to help trauma centers offset the cost of their care. It has $120 million in it, but like pretty much every dedicated fund in the budget, some of that routinely gets diverted to other things, because it’s easier to do that than it is to properly fund the budget through taxation. This particular fund gets its money from traffic citations (including, as of 2007, red light camera tickets), and the fund itself has the money it’s supposed to, it’s just that the Lege doesn’t let the trauma centers have all of it. Previously, they got $70 million of the $120 million; this time, it’s $57.5 million. Keep that in mind when you read about an accident victim dying en route to a trauma center miles away from where they were injured.

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, a member of the House appropriations and public health committees, called it “very frustrating” to have funding dedicated for trauma care and not be able to distribute it. Zerwas added that he’s looking for a long-term solution.

But he also noted that the trauma money is hardly alone among dedicated funds, and said the big question is still how the Legislature balances its budget with all its needs.

Of course, as Rep. Zerwas fails to note, the Republicans in the Legislature have steadfastly refused to use the Rainy Day Fund, which could provide billions of dollars to offset a chunk of the shortfall. The Republicans have also steadfastly refused to address the structural deficit, in which the business margins tax and other revenue sources created in 2006 to pay for the massive property tax cut that was passed then has consistently fallen short and has by now accumulated billions more in unfunded needs. To put it simply, the Republicans didn’t even try to solve these problems in their budget deal, they mostly spent their time moving money around from one need to another and making ludicrous statements about “living within our means”. Tell that to the trauma centers, y’all.

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