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More Americans Face Longers Trips to ER

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly one in four Americans must now travel farther to the nearest trauma center than 10 years ago due to closures of hospital trauma centers, a new study shows.

The closures have had the greatest impact on black people, the poor, the uninsured and rural residents, according to the University of California, San Francisco researchers.

"Trauma centers aren't just for 'certain' people -- if you sustain a serious injury from a car accident or fall off your roof, you need a trauma center," study author Dr. Renee Y. Hsia, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, said in a university news release.

"We found evidence that vulnerable communities have less geographic access to trauma care, adding to their health disparities," Hsia added. "This study will help us better understand how trauma center closures are affecting people."

The researchers examined trauma center proximity for about 283 million people in the United States and found that by 2007, 69 million had to travel farther to the nearest trauma center than they did in 2001.

Overall, nearly three-quarters of people in the United States live within 10 miles of a trauma center, but the distance is more than 30 miles for 14 percent of the population. Communities with a higher number of poor residents, black residents, uninsured residents and rural residents are farther away from a trauma center than communities with a lower percentage of these groups of people.

The researchers noted that nearly 16 million people now have to drive an extra 30 minutes to reach a trauma center. That could prove critical for those with life-threatening injuries such as a stroke or gunshot wounds.

In 1990, there were 1,125 trauma centers in the United States. Fifteen years later, about 30 percent of them had closed largely due to high costs and patients being unable to pay their bills, the researchers said.

The study appears in the October issue of the journal Health Affairs.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about injury response.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, Oct. 5, 2011

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