Last year, paramedics raced at least 1,300 Florida children to hospitals with injuries so severe, they required attention from a team of trauma specialists. Not all of these kids, however, got the same level of care. Because, as the Tampa Bay Times points out in our new special investigation, not all trauma centers are created equal.
1. Specialized care benefits kids
Victims of bad car crashes, devastating falls and violent crimes need more than an emergency room to deal with their complicated injuries. And if the victims are under 16, studies show they will fare better if treated at one of the 13 pediatric trauma centers in the state. Click to see the map.
2. Rules say kids should go to pediatric centers
State and local rules tell paramedics to take children to pediatric trauma centers even if adult trauma centers are closer. The only exceptions are when paramedics believe a child can't survive the trip; then, they head to the nearest hospital.
3. Pediatric trauma centers have experienced specialists
Unlike adult trauma centers, pediatric-designated centers must meet state standards for having specialists who are experienced in operating on an infant's brain or repairing a toddler's broken pelvis. These hospitals also have special intensive care and rehabilitative units that cater to children's needs.
4. The wrong choice can cost more time later
Saving a few minutes on the front end by taking a child to a close-by adult trauma center can create hours of delays later on. The patient is evaluated with blood tests and imaging scans. A pediatric specialist at the next trauma center has to be informed of the patient's status. An ambulance or helicopter has to be arranged. If the specialist at the receiving hospital is in surgery or the weather is bad, the whole process is delayed.
5. Even if transferred, the first hospital could still be owed thousands
Taking a child to the wrong hospital can be expensive. Some trauma centers charge more than $30,000 to activate a team of medical specialists even if those doctors are able to do little but transfer the child elsewhere for care. The Times examined this out-of-control "trauma response fee" earlier this year.
6. Making the wrong choice can kill children
At least three children have died after transfer from adult centers, the Times found. Their injuries may have proven fatal regardless of where they went. But in each case, time would have been saved if the child had been taken directly to a pediatric trauma center.
To discover why children with life-threatening injuries are being forced to wait hours for treatment, read the Times' full investigative report by clicking here or find it in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times.