News Releases

Senator Murray Introduces National Trauma Care Stabilization Act to Ensure Americans Have Access to Lifesaving Care

Nov 07 2007

Bill would provide much needed support for Harboview Medical Center which is the only level I trauma center serving Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho

Provides federal support for trauma centers struggling with the increased cost of charity care

Watch Video - Watch Murray's Statement

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Murray (D-WA) introduced the National Trauma Care Stabilization Act which provides federal grants for trauma care centers across the nation that are struggling and often closing their doors because of the increased costs of providing health care and uncompensated charity care. 

"Trauma can happen at any time and to anyone, whether it's a family in a highway crash, a gunshot victim, or a construction worker in an accident – trauma centers must be available to provide immediate care," Senator Murray said at a press conference announcing the bill. “My bill will ensure that increased health care costs and charity care doesn’t block access to the trauma care Americans rely on. This bill also ensures that by opening the doors of trauma care to all we are not causing the doors of some facilities to close for good. Because accidents don't discriminate among rich and poor and neither should our trauma care centers."

David Jaffe, Chairman of the National Foundation for Trauma Care Board commented that, "We must do whatever possible to avoid further downgrades or closures of our nation’s trauma centers and this legislation goes a long way towards helping to stabilize the situation."

The National Trauma Center Stabilization Act will provide assistance for economically distressed trauma centers by reauthorizing federal funding for centers facing the highest uncompensated costs, provide emergency funding to help prevent trauma center closures or downgrades, and provide financial support for core mission services. The bi-partisan bill is co-sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-OK), Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX).

Harborview – Crisis in the Northwest

The crisis in trauma care funding is a particularly urgent problem in the Northwest where Harborview Medical Center has the only level one trauma center serving four states – Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. Harborview has the highest occupancy rate of any hospital in the region, has logged more than 81,000 emergency department visits, and had over $110 million in charity care last year – which represents 21% of their total expenditures.

The funding in the bill will be provided to trauma centers using three different grants.

Types of Grants

  • Substantial Uncompensated Care Grants – These grants will assist those trauma centers with the highest levels of charity  care to help defray some of their uncompensated costs and help to prevent further closures or downgrades of trauma levels.
  • Core Mission Grants –These grants support the costs associated with day-to-day running of a trauma center including patient stabilization and transfer, trauma related medical education, and coordination with other trauma centers and the state trauma system.
  • Emergency Grants – These grants provide emergency relief to trauma centers at risk of closing or to remaining trauma centers in a region where another trauma center has closed or downgraded levels. 

Grant Information

  • Total Grant Amounts – There is $100 million authorized for the program in Fiscal Year 2009 and such sums as necessary for fiscal years 2010-2014.
  • Grants Lengths – Grants will be for three years and may be extended for an additional year as long as qualifying conditions are met.  
  • Individual Grant Amounts – Individual grants may not exceed $2,000,000 nor exceed the level of uncompensated care provided by the trauma center in its emergency department.

Senator Murray's remarks from today's press conference follow:

Trauma is the leading cause of death for children and adults under the age of 34, and kills more Americans than stroke and AIDS combined.

Trauma can happen at any time and to anyone, whether it's a family in a highway crash, a gunshot victim or a construction worker who falls on a work site – trauma centers must be available to provide care. Getting a trauma victim to a trauma center right away is the first step in saving his or her life.  What doctors call the "golden hour" is the first 60 minutes after a traumatic injury. It is widely believed that the victim’s chances of survival are greatest if he or she receives critical and specialized trauma care within that time.

Trauma centers provide care to all trauma victims regardless of their ability to pay.  When a trauma patient cannot afford treatment, the trauma center absorbs the cost of care. And this is putting many trauma centers at serious risk.  

In fact, the National Trauma Care Foundation estimates that trauma centers collectively face $230 million each year in losses for treating victims who are either uninsured or whose care is reimbursed well below the cost of providing care.  

So while our trauma care centers mend our country's most critically injured, they, themselves, are hemorrhaging funding. Since 2000 - - twenty hospitals have closed their trauma centers and six have downgraded one or two levels. 

These closures have real consequences for real Americans. Ask yourselves – what would it be like if your local fire station or police station was suddenly shut down? Or if you called 911 and nobody came? Unfortunately, this is just what it's like if you or a family member is a trauma victim and your local trauma center has been shut down.

Terrorism

And this issue is also critical in the current age of terrorism and bioterrorism. After September 11th, St. Vincent's Trauma Care Center in New York City saw 842 patients – most in the first two hours after the attacks. And trauma care centers played a critical role last April after the Virginia Tech shootings.

What happens if there is another catastrophic event and nowhere to seek care?

What Bill Does

My bill will ensure that the strain of increased costs and charity care doesn't block the trauma care Americans rely on. It will ensure that by opening the doors of trauma care to all we are not causing the doors of some facilities to close for good.

My bill will provide critical funding to help stabilize existing trauma centers, particularly those with the highest levels of charity care and will help ensure that trauma centers continue to be there for all who need life-saving care, regardless of their ability to pay. Because accidents don't discriminate among rich and poor and neither should our trauma care centers.

Harborview

This issue hits home for me, because it is a particularly urgent problem in the Northwest where Harborview Medical Center has the only level one trauma center serving four states – Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. This means that about one-fourth of the entire land mass of the United States is currently being covered by ONE level one trauma care center. 

From Spokane, to Boise, to Billings and everywhere in between, our region relies on Harborview when residents are faced with life-threatening injuries. This means that Harborview has the highest occupancy rate of any hospital in the region, has logged more than 81,000 emergency department visits, and had over $110 million in charity care last year – which represents 21% of their total expenditures. 

We can't afford to let it continue to lose the funding it desperately needs to serve our region. I was reminded yesterday of the importance of trauma centers access – particularly at Harborview – when I read the story of a young women who recently received care there.

This young women was on her way home from a party three years ago when she was involved in a terrible car wreck. She was found seven days after the accident in a ravine next to the road. She was brought to Harborview where she received the capable, competent care that level one trauma care facilities are know for.

She recovered from her horrible accident and is thriving today thanks to the doctors and nurses that took care of her. She described her experience by saying that "she must have had angles watching over her." It is simply unconscionable that we would ever let these doctors, nurses, and critical facilities suffer from a lack of federal support.