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Reflecting on the Columbine Tragedy: Trauma Care Must Be All About the Patients

By: Wellington Webb | Posted: April 25, 2014 3:55 AM
Wellington Webb

Wellington Webb

Last Sunday, April 20, marked an important religious celebration of life and sacrifice for many around the world. However, for many Coloradoans, the day was darkened by the 15-year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.

During my eighth year as mayor of Denver, our local community experienced great tragedy brought by the hateful shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. It is difficult to fathom that it has been 15 years since two boys killed 15 people, including themselves, and injured dozens more. Time has not lessened the impact this senseless crime has had on our community, city, and our state.

On this anniversary, it is important to reflect, but not relive that unthinkable day by looking to better prepare for tragedy. That day, Colorado’s trauma network and first responders worked skillfully together to save lives – we were all Coloradoans.

During moments of tragedy, like the Columbine massacre, there is a heightened appreciation for well-designed trauma networks; every action and every element of a trauma network is focused on the victims and what can be done to best save each and every life.

Trauma networks should be developed to ensure quick access to trauma care -- not just during times of man-made or natural disaster and tragedy. And, with approximately 17 percent of U.S. citizens living more than an hour's drive from a Level I, II, or III trauma center, we need to focus on improving our trauma networks throughout the country to increase access to quality trauma care.

Trauma patients have the highest chance of surviving when they receive care in a trauma center within one hour of injury -- a time frame the medical profession has coined the “Golden Hour.”

Florida, this legislative session, has an opportunity to improve its trauma system. With far more annual visitors than Colorado, due to Florida’s burgeoning tourism industry, and well over 19 million residents, closing any one of the state’s current 27 trauma centers is surely a recipe for disaster.

Florida hospitals' tug-of-war over profits is clouding the purpose of trauma systems, risking lives and putting individual hospital interests and needs at the core of the trauma network. Regardless of the rhetoric, allowing the closure of competing trauma centers solely to monopolize the trauma market is not in the best interest of patients or outcomes.

As someone who has experienced a community turned upside down by tragedy, I know allowing these community trauma centers to close is not only backward, but could cost lives.

Luckily, the Legislature is working to ensure Florida’s trauma system is based on providing much-needed access to trauma care and saving lives -- not saving bottom lines.

Setting these two bills in front of lawmakers is certainly a first good step and provides a solid framework for a lasting trauma system ready to respond when disaster strikes. The bills seek to protect communities and their existing trauma centers, putting an end to the never-ending lawsuits.

If there is anything positive from the heinous crimes committed at Columbine, it should be comfort that our trauma system worked that day. The Colorado community of first responders and medical professionals responded admirably to the incident and saved the lives of the dozens of students and teachers who had been harmed.

Passing HB 7113 and SB 1276 will certainly put Florida’s trauma system on a path to work as a cohesive network with patients at the nucleus and the trauma centers, first responders and Department of Health working together to ensure much-needed access to quality trauma care, support and protection of patients.



Wellington Webb is former mayor of Denver and former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.


Tags: News, Columns

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