Find out why two Jackson hospitals pay millions so they don’t have to treat trauma patients in ERs

Published 1:58 pm Thursday, September 12, 2019

By Erica Hensley, Mississippi Today

Mississippi’s statewide trauma care system is designed to create a network of hospitals capable of treating high-need emergency care patients. But two Jackson hospitals instead pay millions of dollars every year for choosing not to treat serious trauma patients.

The Mississippi State Department of Health annually assess hospitals’ trauma care capacity, ranking hospitals on 1 to 4 scale based on how well-equipped facilities are to handle serious trauma patients.

A Level 1 designation applies, according to health department information, to “comprehensive facilities, capable of treating the entire range of traumatic injuries,” while Level 2 hospitals “generally have the same clinical services as Level 1 Trauma Centers but lack the surgical residency and research capabilities.”

Hospitals designated Level 3 “have the capabilities to resuscitate and treat the majority of trauma injuries but lack dedicated neurosurgical services.” Level 4 hospitals, which make up the majority of hospitals in Mississippi, can stabilize and transfer trauma patients to higher level trauma centers.

Although the state of Mississippi says that Jackson-based Baptist Medical Center and St. Dominic Hospital can provide care at a Level 2, each pays $1.5 million annually in what the state calls a non-participation fee for opting out of accepting Level 2 trauma patients. Both hospitals choose to operate as Level 4 facilities instead. Together, the hospitals paid the state more than $26 million since 2008 to avoid treating certain trauma patients as Level 2 facilities, according to state health department records Mississippi Today obtained.

These payments plus traffic fines from certain recreational vehicles and vanity tag fees fund about a $20 million yearly payout. That sum is split between trauma hospitals with a small portion going to ambulance services across the state to subsidize high-cost, uncompensated trauma care at hospitals that participate in the program.

Unintentional injury is the largest cause of death for Mississippians aged 1 to 44. Since the trauma system’s inception, overall trauma injuries have increased — mostly vehicle crashes — but trauma deaths have decreased overall, which the state health department credits to the trauma system’s functionality.

Mississippi was the first state to mandate participation in a statewide trauma care system — a network of regional hospitals each designated to give a specific level of care, from basic stabilization all the way up to complex surgery — to triage high-need emergency patients across the state.