Injured patients who live near shuttered trauma centers are more likely to die in the hospital, according to a study published today in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery by researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), a member of America’s Essential Hospitals.

About one-third of the nation’s 1,125 trauma centers, which are specially staffed and equipped to handle severe injuries, have closed across the last two decades, a UCSF news release said.

For the study, researchers analyzed data for more than 270,000 patients to determine the impact of three trauma center closures in California between 1999 and 2009. Specifically, investigators compared patients whose travel time to the nearest trauma center increased to those whose travel time decreased or had no change.

The results showed that injured patients who had to travel farther to reach a trauma center were 21 percent more likely to die in the hospital than patients who did not have an increased travel time. The risk of death was even higher, about 29 percent, in the first two years after a center closed. Meanwhile, patients whose travel time decreased were 17 percent less likely to die in the hospital than patients whose travel time stayed the same.

The study also found that patients were more likely to have increased travel times if they were younger, had low incomes, were black or Hispanic, or were uninsured or on Medicaid.

Critical Role of Essential Hospitals

Members of America’s Essential Hospitals provide vital services including trauma care, burn units, and neonatal intensive care, among other services, and this study underscores the critical role they play in their communities.

According to the 2012 AHA Survey of Hospitals, members of America’s Essential Hospitals provide 32 percent of level I trauma care services in the top 10 largest U.S. cities, which include Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, and San Jose.

Without essential hospitals, patients in many communities would lack access to life-saving care and services – that’s why protecting the viability of these institutions is of utmost importance.

Do you have a trauma center nearby?