The need for a burn center in Mississippi isn't something that requires a great deal of debate. Mississippi ranks first in the nation in the rate of fire-related deaths at 4.12 per 100,000 state residents.

Why? Poverty and fire injuries and deaths go hand-in-hand. In many cases, it's simply a matter of too many people trying to stay warm using substandard means.

And with the highest rate of fire-related deaths in the nation comes an extremely high rate of exposing fire fighters to smoke inhalation at best and life-threatening burn injuries at worst.

Reliable funding

House Bill 567 establishes a treatment center for burn victims at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Mississippi no longer has a burn treatment facility after the previous one closed two years ago in Greenville.

HB 567 would require $10 million to construct a facility at UMC and about $5 million in annual operating expenses thereafter to operate it.

Legislation to establish a burn unit at UMC died in the state Senate last year after an advisory group selected by Gov. Haley Barbour reported that a center would cost between $10 million and $20 million to start and $8 million to $10 million a year to operate.

There's also support for the concept of a burn center in the state Senate. But while the House has proposed full funding for a burn center with help from private donations, the Senate wants half the funding to come from private donations.

Mississippi hasn't had a burn center for two years now because the Mississippi Firefighters Burn Center in Greenville encountered funding woes. That center was dependent on public donations and money raised by fire fighters.

That's the wrong approach.

Memphis or Mobile?

Mississippi has one Level One trauma center and that's UMC. Currently, many Mississippians who are injured and need Level One trauma care are being shipped to Regional Medical Center in Memphis - commonly called "The Med" - or to Mobile. Mississippi isn't paying anywhere close to its fair share for indigent trauma care in Memphis or Mobile.

More than 75 percent of Arkansas or Mississippi patients admitted to The Med went to the burn or trauma centers. The Med estimates that some $12 million is spent on uncompensated care for Mississippians at their facility.

There's a move in Memphis to stop accepting Mississippi patients. It's more than evident that Mississippi taxpayers need - as Gov. Barbour likes to say - to "hitch up their britches" and fund a burn center at UMC.

Asking the taxpayers of other states to pay for indigent trauma care and simply ignoring the need for a proper burn center in Mississippi when the need is so great is incredibly bad public policy.

Trauma care is something that's easy to forget and easy to say is too expensive until it's your loved one in the ambulance or helicopter.

Show me the most rock-ribbed Republican conservative opponent of higher taxes or any increased government spending and I'll show you one who is one badly burned grandchild away from being willing to pony up higher taxes to fund a burn center in Mississippi.

Rank-and-file working Mississippi taxpayers want a burn center for their families. Mississippi can do better than to continue the foolish risk not having such a center.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Cntact him at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.

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