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Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 12:00pm

New Efforts To Prevent Injuries

State public health officials have announced they're getting an $800,000 grant to spend on injury prevention projects.

And in a separate announcement, officials at Savannah's Memorial Health University Medical Center say they plan to spend $1 million to open up a new injury prevention institute.

Both efforts aim to keep people out of harm's way.

Each year, serious injuries send 2,700 people to Memorial's level one trauma center.

Dr. Gage Ochsner of the hospital's new Institute for Injury Research and Prevention says people like to think of collisions, falls and drownings as accidents.

"If you look up the definition of accident, it's non-preventable and an act of God," Ochsner says. "Well, a lot of things, like drinking and driving, failure to use safety belts, and driving at high speeds all lead to accidents and death."

Education on safe hunting, water activities and driving will play a big part of the effort.

But so will data.

Oschner says, something as easy as improving signs on dangerous roads could help save lives.

"Dead Man's Curve," Oschner says. "Identify those areas where you can institute precautions, maybe legislation or just educate people about 'Don't put a four-year-old on an ATV and let them drive it.'"

The institute will train rural hospitals on getting patients to Memorial within the life-saving "golden hour" after injuries occur.

The state would have beefed up rural hospitals and created a statewide trauma network with a car tag fee Georgia voters rejected a few years ago.

Lawmakers also didn't fund it.

Ochsner says, the hospital has to act.

"I'm just not going to wait for the state," Ochsner says. "We have opportunities in our region to make a difference. And if we can get this institute up and running, then we can have an impact."

Memorial's effort is funded entirely so far by private donations.

But the state is spending money on injury prevention.

The Governor's Office of Highway Safety this month announced grants to programs that among other things aim to slow people down on country roads.

Steve Davidson runs Southeast Georgia's Rural Roads Initiative.

"There's a tendency when you see this big long straight stretch in front of you and you think, 'Hoh, this is my big chance to hit the accelerator and drive fast," Davidson says.

Statistics show rural roads are much deadlier than their urban counterparts, in part because of speed.

The initiative works to improve highways and law enforcement and educate drivers, especially teens.

Another state program receiving funding provides child safety seats to needy drivers.

Terri Black runs the Child Occupant Safety Program in Burke County near Augusta.

"There's a lot that goes into what makes child safety seats to complicated," Black says.

Black says, the variety of child safety seat models and car designs often leads to people using them improperly and children dying.

"We don't just give away the car seats," Black says. "The parents have to come to an educational class that can last anywhere between an hour to two-hours."

In all, Georgia exceeds the national average for death by traumatic injury by 20%.

Memorial CEO Maggie Gill says about 700 Georgians a year could be saved if the state lowered its trauma death rate to the national average.

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