Politics & Government

Georgia voters must decide to pay $10 a year for upgraded trauma care

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Jose Velazquez is blunt when asked about the necessity of having a trauma center nearby when a terrible accident occurs. That’s because he has lived the nightmare.

“If it wasn’t for The Medical Center, I wouldn’t be here talking to you,” said the Smiths Station, Ala., resident, who survived a car crash that injured his brain and broke several bones in his body nearly two years ago.

As Velazquez recalls his near-death experience, Georgians head to the polls in less than three weeks to vote on state and local candidates. The election ballot also includes five constitutional amendments up for yea or nay by voters, with No. 2 aimed at upgrading trauma center readiness across the state.

The husband and father of three children — ages, 11, 10 and 4 — was test driving his brother’s car where Second Avenue merges onto J.R. Allen Parkway toward Phenix City. The engine cut off suddenly, affecting the power steering and causing Velazquez to lose control of the vehicle, with it careening into a pine tree.

Velazquez, now 38, was in a coma for two months and still has difficult moments mentally even while pursuing an electrical engineer degree at Auburn University.

“The thing is, when you don’t need it, you pretty much take it for granted,” Velazquez said of The Medical Center’s Level 2 trauma center. “Luckily it was there for me when I needed it the most ... I never thought that it could happen to me. I live my life very carefully and thought that would never happen to me.”

The referendum calls for a $10 annual vehicle registration fee that would raise about $80 million each year. The money would boost the number of trauma centers in Georgia from 16 to 30, positioning more in the lower half of the state. It also would help staff, train and equip existing centers and statewide systems aimed at getting severely injured patients to a facility before it’s too late.

Despite the fact that the amendment mandates that every penny be spent on trauma care, there is resistance to adding the $10 fee in a contentious election year, conceded Kevin Bloye, spokesman for the Georgia Hospital Association.

“The attitude of the electorate is extremely pessimistic. There’s such a high level of distrust of the government,” he said. “The issue really isn’t the $10. The issue is, ‘Do I want to give one more dime to the government?’”

Read more: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2010/10/17/1309368/georgia-voters-must-decide-nov.html#ixzz12dtCdgvV