Illinois hospitals are pushing for reform of the state's trauma network before it falls apart.
Since the beginning of the year, three hospitals have pulled out of the network, saying they're unable to cover expenses from an increase in trauma patients when they're reimbursed under what they characterize as a faulty and financially unsound system.
The 66 hospitals left in the trauma network are losing nearly $30 million a year, or about $4,800 per discharge, according to the state Department of Public Health.
"The state needs to approve our regional plans, and we would hope they would come up with some monies to support trauma before the entire system falls apart," said Scott Anderson, director of critical care and ambulatory services at 236-bed St. James Hospital and Health Centers in Chicago Heights, Ill.
The Illinois Trauma Network was created in 1988, but officials didn't establish a funding mechanism at that time to help hospitals pay for the care. Since the network was created, a dozen hospitals have dropped out.
St. James withdrew from the network last month, citing a doubling in the number of trauma patients after neighboring 235-bed South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill., dropped out of the network. The third hospital to withdraw, Finley Hospital in Dubuque, Iowa, was designated to take trauma patients from northwest Illinois.
Hospitals want the state to find a better way of distributing patients.
In January, St. James' emergency department cared for 22 new trauma patients, twice its normal level. Of those, 19 were treated and released.
Some of those patient encounters are unnecessary and a financial burden. For example, some patients automatically are transferred to a trauma center when they may only need care at a community hospital, Mr. Anderson said.
Suzanne Gray, trauma system administrator for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said a reformed system likely will involve having more trauma patients sent first to community hospitals. If they need more specialized trauma care, they would be transferred to a network trauma center, she said.
The state will be distributing $2.5 million to the state's trauma centers later this year. That money came from a 1993 law that added $5 to all traffic violations, with the proceeds designated to help pay for trauma care for Medicaid patients. Half of the fee money went to the Department of Public Aid and the other half went to the Department of Public Health.
Ms. Gray said the state is looking at refinancing the trauma network and hopes to get an additional $2.5 million. "We're hoping the traffic fund will reach $5 million," Ms. Gray said. "If we can get the system some financial support, maybe that would provide the hospitals with (an) incentive to stay in the network."
The trauma network is divided into 11 regions. Currently, the different regions have developed committees to discuss better ways of redistributing patients. They'll be presenting those plans to the state this year.