Rising Closures of Hospital Trauma Centers Disproportionately Burden Vulnerable Populations

Closures of hospital trauma centers have accelerated since 2001. These closures may disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities.

Researchers evaluated how driving time between ZIP code areas and the nearest trauma centers—a proxy for access, given the time-sensitive nature of trauma care—changed nationwide during 2001 to 2007. By 2007, sixty-nine million Americans (24% of the population) had to travel farther to the nearest trauma center than they did in 2001, and almost 16 million people had to travel an additional 30 minutes or more.

Communities with disproportionately high numbers of African American residents, uninsured people, and people living in poverty, as well as people living in rural areas, were more likely than others to be thus affected. Because mortality from traumatic injuries has also worsened for these vulnerable populations, policy-makers should learn more about the possible connections—and consider such measures as paying trauma centers serving these communities higher amounts for treatment of injuries.