Trauma Centers Fight For Their Lives

At Grady Memorial Hospital, the clock's ticking for trauma patients - and for the hospital.

At any Level 1 trauma center like Grady, you'll find sixteen different surgical specialties 24/7 - from brain surgeons to orthopedic experts, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

"There's no space in this trauma bay, and there's no space in this trauma bay," one medical staffer said.

Dr. Leon Haley's teams treat 4,000 trauma patients a year.

If there's an ugly car accident, shooting, stabbing, where do you want to go?

"This is where you want to go," Haley said.

But no one can stop Grady's bleeding.

This year it could lose $55 million - and close. There are too many patients with no way to pay.

If Grady closed, Atlanta would have a true trauma 9-1-1. In a metro area of more than 4 million people, this is the only Level 1 trauma center.

From Los Angeles to Chicago to Birmingham, 20 trauma centers have closed since 2000. And America's trauma centers will lose another $1 billion this year.

In 2003, Oklahoma University's Trauma Center almost went under. The state had a novel solution.

First the hospital educated voters. Trauma care is critical - not just for shooting and stabbing victims, but for everyone.

"I've had friends leave the hospital to go home. I've said goodbye to them and 20 minutes later they were back in my trauma room at my facility," said Roxie Albrecht, M.D. and Associate Professor of Surgery Director of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "So it can happen to anyone at any time."

Skip Sellers crashed his motorcycle and lost parts of three limbs. Oklahoma University trauma center saved his life.

"Everybody here has somebody they really, really love. And you don't know when they might have an accident," Sellers said. "And you don't know when they might need the trauma unit. But you'd better ... hope it's there."

FYI: Where are trauma centers at risk and what's being done?
Sellers helped convince Oklahomans to raise cigarette taxes, and generate millions for trauma care.

Georgia has no plans to bail out Grady.

"We would love to be benevolent; we would love to give away all of this care," Georgia's Lt. Gov., Casey Cagle, said. "But somebody's got to pay for it."

And how close to running out of time?

"It's getting close," Haley said. "It's gettin' Real close."

Nationally, more than a dozen trauma centers share Grady's prognosis.

"People are going to die, and it's purely preventable," Albrecht said.

Grady's in a fight for its own life.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.