The following is a guest op-ed from Gail Lazenby, the captain of Villages Public Safety at Village Community Development District.
The people of Marion County and surrounding counties are fortunate to have access to life-saving health care. Unlike some other parts of the state, we have an outstanding Level II trauma center at Ocala Regional Medical Center, which provides specialized trauma care 24 hours a day.
As an experienced paramedic treating patients for 36 years, I know that during a life-threatening situation, there is nothing more important than getting a patient to a trauma center within minutes.
Unfortunately, Munroe Regional Medical Center, Shands at the University of Florida and Shands Jacksonville Medical Center filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health attempting to shut down Ocala Regional’s trauma center, the only such center for all of Marion, Citrus and Hernando counties — even providing access to trauma care to Sumter County. Fortunately for the region, a Leon County Circuit judge recently dismissed the lawsuit, allowing the trauma center to continue serving seriously injured patients.
Without Ocala Regional’s trauma center, the lives of the more than 100,000 residents I serve at The Villages retirement community, and countless others in our community, would be jeopardized. That’s why it is sad and utterly perplexing that other hospitals have been attempting to shut this trauma center down.
Seemingly indifferent to the dangerous impact of eliminating access to local trauma care for residents, Munroe Regional stated that it was “disappointed” that the court did not agree with its lawsuit that would in effect shut down Ocala Regional’s trauma center. The fact of the matter is the only ones with a right to be “disappointed” are the people of Central Florida whose very chance of survival and safety is being made secondary by the self-interested actions of the very hospitals we are supposed to depend on.
The hospitals opposed to Ocala Regional’s trauma center call it “costly and duplicative.” How anyone can consider the one and only trauma center in the region to be “duplicative?” And unlike Florida’s taxpayer-funded hospitals, Ocala Regional’s trauma center was developed without any “cost” to taxpayers.
It is clear that those opposed to Ocala Regional’s trauma center continue to place their self-interests above what is best for trauma patients and the community, claiming that they can provide a “better alternative for our region.” But shutting down a trauma center that has treated 512 patients in only four months of operation and replacing it with lengthy detours in an ambulance is in no way a “better alternative” for trauma victims — it is downright dangerous or deadly. Furthermore, to claim that Ocala’s trauma center is not needed is like saying the state of Rhode Island, which is geographically smaller than Marion County, does not need a trauma facility.
The value of Ocala Regional’s trauma center to our community is unmistakable, and we cannot put a value on the lives it saves every day. The more than 90,000 retirees and senior citizens I serve want to know they, their neighbors, family and friends will be safe in times of crisis. Their safety and peace of mind should always be considered more important than some hospital’s bottom-line.
The Leon County judge agreed there was no reason to shut down Ocala Regional’s trauma center, and anyone looking at the center’s positive impact on the surrounding communities without ulterior motives should reach the same conclusion. Florida’s hospitals should work together with the Department of Health to strengthen our state’s trauma network, not file frivolous lawsuits to weaken it.
Only time will tell if Munroe and Shands will stop their attacks on the trauma center at Ocala Regional, or if their drive for profit will once again overtake their concern for the lives of trauma patients.