Dep’t of Health faces legal challenges over trauma rules

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Legal challenges face the Florida Department of Health over the proposal attempting to resolve the years-long battle over the approval of new trauma centers.

A group of hospitals submitted a petition this month calling to prevent a change to the trauma-care rule released by the department in February: Gainesville’s UF Health Shands Hospital, Tampa General Hospital, The Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Memorial Regional Hospital in Broward County and Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Filed in state Division of Administrative Hearings, the cases occur after nearly three years of litigation over the DOH approval of trauma facilities. The litigation stems from the agency’s rulings in 2011 and 2012 to approve HCA health-care operated trauma centers at hospitals in, Marion, Manatee, Pasco and Clay counties.

The trauma centers faced opposition from other hospitals that operate long-running trauma centers.

Both an administrative law judge and the First District Court of Appeal ruled the DOH used an invalid rule the approvals, leading the department to propose new rules.

Under the updated plan, the DOH would consider other factors such as population, transport times and community support in the approval process for new trauma centers.

The legal challenges, consolidated into a single case, maintain the proposed rule change does not comply with state law.

Last week, administrative Law Judge R. Bruce McKibben scheduled a hearing for March 31, but St. Joseph’s filed a continuance request Wednesday until the week of April 21, due to the number of witnesses and documents involved in the case, according to the Division of Administrative Hearings.

At the same time, the Legislation is considering bills to amend the process of approving trauma centers, which would keep the new facilities open.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.