The Florida Department of Health, after years of legal and partisan bickering in the healthcare industry, has proposed a new approach to designate trauma centers throughout the state.
But there still as a way to go, if Wednesday’s meeting in Orlando is any indication, reports Jim Saunders in the News Service of Florida.
Supporters in the audience look to keep trauma centers available in Osceola, Marion and Clay Counties. They were there to hear the agency’s new plan.
They contended that residents and tourists need access to specialized trauma care without travel to distant hospitals.
“Access equals lives saved,” said Erik Barquist, a surgeon and trauma medical director at Osceola Regional Medical Center. “ Decreased transportation time equals lives saved.”
Also, there were representatives of Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Gainesville hospitals —areas with longstanding trauma centers. They argued community support is not enough for other trauma centers, with the high cost and need for specialized staff.
“There is a question of who is going to pay for this,” said trauma director Steven Epstein from Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
The center of the meeting was a draft rule developed by the Department of Health, the agency overseeing trauma center approval. The draft rule allows the state to use a scoring system to accept new trauma centers, factoring in population, community support and transportation times to confirm where to put trauma centers in 19 areas of Florida.
A new method could provide up to 43 trauma centers across the state, considerably more than the 25 trauma centers currently operating, according to the department.
Under the new rules Marion, Citrus and Hernando Counties—with the only trauma center in Ocala Regional Medical Center—could have as many as three under the new draft regulation.
Proposals came up after both an administrative law judge and an appeals court ruled the current trauma rule invalid. Four hospitals — Bayfront Medical Center, Tampa General Hospital, UF Health Jacksonville and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa — challenged the rule in 2011. They attempted to stop the approval of new trauma centers in Manatee County at Blake Medical Center, in Pasco County’s Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point and Orange Park Medical Center in Clay County.
During the legal battle, the DOH allowed centers to start at three HCA health-care affiliated hospitals—Blake Medical Center, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, Orange Park Medical Center and Ocala Regional Medical Center. Ongoing litigation raised doubts that the Blake, Bayonet Point and Ocala Regional trauma centers would continue to operate.
The trauma center in Orange Park closed for an unrelated reason, and the hospital is seeking to reopen it.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting to oppose the draft rule was Gainesville’s UF Health Shands Hospital, to question the legitimacy of the Ocala Regional trauma center.
Fire, police and emergency-medical services officials from Osceola, Marion and Clay counties also came out to support new trauma centers, Saunders writes. Their argument was that they must deliver accident victims as much as 60 miles, to hospitals in Orlando and Jacksonville, for trauma treatment.
“I understand that minutes matter when you’re talking about saving someone’s life when they’re on the way to a trauma center,” said Kissimmee Police Department Deputy Chief Jeff O’Dell.
According to attorney Seann Frazier, who represents UF Health Jacksonville and UF Health Shands, the draft rule fails to fix a critical legal question in the challenges leading to finding against the prior rule. His argument rests on the allocation of trauma centers in 19 areas. Frazier claimed that state law mandates the DOH service seven regions. The agency disputes the argument.
Another hearing is scheduled in Miami Dec. 18.