The recent increase on state tobacco taxes will help hundreds of thousands of Arkansans, especially children, the elderly, and the working poor. The vote was a difficult one for all members of the General Assembly, but the long-term benefits of the health program carried the day among the majority in both chambers.

The recent increase on state tobacco taxes will help hundreds of thousands of Arkansans, especially children, the elderly, and the working poor. The vote was a difficult one for all members of the General Assembly, but the long-term benefits of the health program carried the day among the majority in both chambers.
Lawmakers raised the state tax on a pack of cigarettes by 56 cents, and by a more complicated amount, on smokeless tobacco during the 87th General Assembly, which concluded in May.
State finance officials estimate the tax increase will generate $70 million a year. Some programs in the 20-plus-item healthcare package also will be eligible for a three-to-one match in federal money.
The centerpiece of the package is a statewide trauma network, allowing emergency teams to get trauma victims to the hospital that can provide the best treatment for those specific injuries. Now, trauma victims are usually taken to the nearest hospital, regardless of the quality of its equipment and the level of its staffing, and a decision is made there as to where, how and when to transport the patient.
Some 60 hospitals, including Heber Springs Baptist Medical Center, have applied for trauma grants from the state to pay for necessary upgrades in staff and equipment, depending on the level of care individual hospitals want to provide.
A Level 1 center is the highest, with neurosurgeons and other specialists on site around the clock and also is an academic and research facility. A Level 2 center is a slight step down and must have a neurosurgeon on staff.
A Level 3 center must have doctors on call who can respond within 15 minutes. A Level 4 center offers more services than a basic emergency room but is still used primarily for stabilizing a patient before transferring them.
Heber Springs Baptist Medical Center applied for Level 3 status. Conway Regional Medical Center has applied for Level 2. At least two Little Rock hospitals will be Level 1 trauma centers. Funding for establishing the network is set at $25 million this fiscal year, and $28 million the next.
For many trauma victims, the current delay in getting the right treatment is unnecessary, and it is fatal. For many more, their injuries worsen and, should they survive those injuries, the effect of those injuries can be permanent and, in some cases, can be of great cost to taxpayers.
Emergency room physicians talk of the “golden hour,” when a person’s chances of survival are greater if the appropriate care is available within that time. A trauma network will provide that hour.
We can save lives with a trauma network, by improving communications among the emergency-care network and by upgrading the emergency rooms and staffs of hospitals across the state.
Until this session, Arkansas was the only state in the union not part of a trauma network, and one of the very few without a Level 1 trauma hospital. Under the plan so far, we’ll have at least one, and possibly two, trauma hospitals where the very elite of surgeons and staff will be on duty – not just on call – 24 hours a day and similar improvements will be made at dozens of other hospitals across the state.
The other items in the state’s most ambitious healthcare program ever will be addressed next week.