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COUNTYWIDE : Corporate Aid for Trauma Care Sought

Members of Orange County’s medical and business communities on Thursday launched an unprecedented effort to obtain corporate support and dollars to shore up the county’s beleaguered trauma care network.

With pledges of more than $50,000 already, the group, called Trauma Care 2000, is set to initiate a study to determine the nature and extent of trauma care problems and ways to lower costs.

At a breakfast meeting at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, sponsors said the study will attempt to gather data on the cost to hospitals and physicians of uncompensated care, which hospitals contend has soared out of control.

It is not unusual for trauma patients--brought in by paramedics for treatment of life-threatening injuries from traffic collisions, shootings, knifings or accidents--to be unable to pay their hospital bills, they said.

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The group will look for alternative funding sources and also will launch a major program to prevent injuries.

Dr. John West, founder of Trauma Care 2000 and an architect of the county’s trauma-care system, said health-care officials were forced to turn to the business community to forestall a collapse of the entire system.

“We are in a tough situation and have made every plea imaginable to federal, state and local governments who have turned a deaf ear,” West said.

On the other side, West said, the business community is also highly frustrated by the rising costs of medical care they must provide to employees.

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“Much of the increase in costs translates into higher medical insurance premiums,” he said. “We are saying (to business) you lend us support and we will make a major effort to contain costs.”

The Orange County trauma network was a national model when it began in 1980 with five hospitals. But in recent years trauma-care networks throughout the state have been inundated with spiraling numbers of poor patients who cannot pay their bills.

Health-care officials blame much of the crisis on the low rate of reimbursement by federal, state and county governments for such indigent patients.

Many in Orange County predicted catastrophe when Fountain Valley Regional Hospital closed its trauma center last December. And although the loss was made up with the inclusion of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in the county system, officials say the problems are still far from solved.

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“If we are not going to get federal money and the state is drying up, we have to look at how we are going to maintain this system,” said Pam Holmquist, coordinator of the trauma center at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo. “There is definitely a role for business to play. They want their employees to live in a community that afford them a high level of care.”


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