Legislative Notebook: Rural hospitals try again for ER cash

A group of state senators is trying to create a fund that would channel $10 from the sale of each car license plate in Georgia to a fund that could be worth as much as $90 million annually to rural hospitals that are lacking top-quality trauma care.

Only four Georgia hospitals offer so-called Level 1 trauma care.

Those facilities in Atlanta, Augusta, Macon and Savannah keep a general surgeon and equipment ready on site, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and always have specialists, such as neurosurgeons, on call.

That’s out of reach for many rural hospitals, so when injuries happen far from the city, patients can be hours away from specialized, on-duty care.

The new plan to bankroll better trauma care would require statewide voter approval, explained one co-sponsor, Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, because the bill would create a separate fund, something like a different bank account for trauma care, that the state Legislature cannot raid.

But “that’s the most important thing, that it would be a dedicated funding source,” Staton said. Rural hospital trauma money would be exempt from annual appropriation battles.

Last year, voters were asked to pay $10 extra on car tags for the rural hospitals, but the proposal failed statewide.

It might have a better chance with voters this time because there’s no fee increase.

But it’s not clear that the Legislature would be as amiable. As Staton explained, channeling tag funds to hospitals would create about an $80 million to $90 million hole in the state’s general budget.

He said filling that hole would be a “challenge” to appropriations, but there’s hope that a recovering economy in a few years might make up the difference.

Hospital visits for two Middle Georgia lawmakers

Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, and Rep. Lynmore James, D-Montezuma, are missing from Capitol business because of hospital visits.

Kidd is in Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta for surgery and is expected to be gone for five days.

James was checked into Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital Midtown on Tuesday evening with a severe case of pneumonia.

Compiled by Maggie Lee.