Poll says 90% of Floridians support legislative action to allow more trauma centers

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New polling number should add fuel to a hospital-industry fight about the need for new trauma centers, just a day after a Florida House committee backed major changes in the way trauma centers are approved in the state.

The 60 Plus Association conducted a survey of Florida voters and found that an overwhelming majority would support legislation to allow hospitals in the state to be designated as trauma centers by meeting the national American College of Surgeons’ standards. 

The poll of more than 800 Floridians demonstrates that this issue has deep support regardless of partisanship – with Democrats, Republicans and Independents all in support of quick access to trauma centers in Florida.  Additionally, 93 percent of these individuals are concerned about the lack of trauma centers within Florida and feel it is “very important” to have a trauma center in the area in which he or she lives.

“It is clear by our survey that the vast majority of Floridians is concerned about the lack of adequate access to trauma care and overwhelmingly supports access to trauma facilities in their communities,” said 60 Plus Association chairman and founder Jim Martin. “The Florida state legislature should act decisively and support HB 817 or SB 966 that encourages access to life-saving trauma care.

The trauma system has been tangled in a series of legal battles during the past two years that stemmed from the Department of Health’s approvals of new trauma centers at HCA hospitals. The battles particularly have focused on trauma centers that have opened at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County; Blake Medical Center in Manatee County; Ocala Regional Medical Center in Marion County and Orange Park Medical Center in Clay County — though the state later ordered the Orange Park trauma center to shut down.

In a legal challenge by other hospitals in the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas, the 1st District Court of Appeal last year found that the Department of Health had used an invalid rule in approving the Pasco, Manatee and Clay county trauma centers. That spurred the department to begin a still-ongoing process of drawing up a new rule.

The proposed bill, however, likely would short-circuit that process and take away at least some decision-making power from the Department of Health. As an example, the bill would eliminate part of state law that says the department “shall establish the approximate number of trauma centers needed to ensure reasonable access to high quality trauma services” in different regions of the state.

Also, the bill would shift responsibility to the American College of Surgeons for verifying that many trauma centers meet standards.

“According to the Department of Health, trauma volumes have been increasing steadily over the last 5 years,” said Martin.  “Unfortunately, only 50 percent of traumavictims in the state are treated in a trauma center.  This number is alarming, because we know chances of survival increase by 25 percent when trauma victims are treated in trauma centers.”

Stephen Ecenia, an attorney for the HCA hospitals, told the House committee that Department of Health has effectively declared a moratorium on approving new trauma centers until it puts in place a new rule. He said the rule process, along with ongoing and potential litigation, are stymieing efforts to open trauma centers at hospitals such as Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee.

“This is politics among the existing trauma centers around the state that want to essentially have a monopoly on the ability to provide trauma care,” Ecenia said.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

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.