Shock trauma deserves fee boost

Vehicle charge: State's emergency medical system running short on funds for life-saving technology.

February 21, 2000

FEW DRIVERS know it, but they pay a fee so Maryland's shock-trauma system can continue its life-saving work -- the medevac helicopters, the paramedic units and the nine designated hospital trauma centers, including the renowned R Adams Cowley Center at University of Maryland Hospital.

There's an $8 annual surcharge on Maryland's 2.2 million drivers when they renew their vehicle registrations. This supports a complex system that includes 32,000 emergency medical workers. Now the shock-trauma community is seeking $3 more on this surcharge. There's good reason for legislators to back this request.

Maryland is one of only five states with comprehensive emergency medical care systems. It remains one of the world's best. But it is beginning to lose ground as the system is strapped for funds to treat a rising number of uninsured admissions and to buy improved but expensive technology.

The Cowley Center alone expects to admit 6,500 emergency patients this year, yet its design capacity is only 3,500. It needs a $41 million facelift to keep pace.

Many of the new admissions are young low-income workers and students without insurance. This is sapping the center's resources to the point that new state-of-the-art equipment, such as a $350,000 portable CT scanner on the market, cannot be purchased.

The extra $3 surcharge would provide funds for the Cowley Center's expansion, an enhanced statewide communications network, improved EMS medical devices and upgrades to the state's 12 medevac helicopters.

A separate fund would be set up to help volunteer fire, ambulance and rescue companies purchase equipment. We'd prefer that this fund be open not only to volunteer companies but to the state's paid fire and rescue departments as well. They perform the same job and need to purchase the same costly equipment.

Seventy percent of emergency rescues, helicopter missions and shock-trauma admissions come from highway accidents. So it makes sense to impose a charge on drivers. Think of it as an insurance policy for yourself and your passengers -- one you'll be glad you have if the unexpected happens.

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