Shands drops legal objection to HCA trauma center at Ocala Regional

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UF Health Shands Hospital has withdrawn objections to the trauma center at Ocala Regional Medical Center’s teaching hospital, closing the years-long legal battle with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.

Filed on Friday and approved on Monday, the request by Shands removes the threat to the future of Ocala Regional’s trauma center.

“It’s over,” Hospital Corporation of America lawyer Steve Ecenia told the Ocala Star Banner on Monday. Ecenia represented Ocala Regional and parent company Hospital Corporation of America.

“That’s about it,” he added. “The cloud over Ocala Regional’s trauma center has been removed. They can continue without having to worry about when they might be shut down.”

Since Ocala Regional opened the trauma center in December 2012, Shands asked the Division of Administrative Hearings to close the facility. Before that, severely injured Marion County patients were sent to Shands for trauma care. Shands officials estimated one-third of its annual 2,500 patients would now be transported to Ocala Regional, which had served nearly 3,000 trauma patients since December 2012.

The trauma center at Ocala Regional serves Lake, Sumter, Marion and Citrus counties.

Administrative Law Judge James Peterson on Monday approved Shands’ motion to withdraw the petition, closing the case file.

Previously, Shands lost its legal objection to new DOH guidelines for approving trauma centers in Florida, which allowed the operation of the Ocala Regional facility.

Administrative Law Judge Bruce McKibben ruled in June that DOH guidelines did not “constitute an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.”

“In light of the recent upholding of the new trauma center allocation rule,” Shands said in a statement to the Star-Banner, “UF Health Shands has concluded that further litigation will not be fruitful in helping to achieve the goal of ensuring that Level 1 and Level 2 trauma centers in Florida provide accessible and high-quality trauma care without adding further to the already high cost of health care.”

HCA continues to face objections to other trauma centers, such as at the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County and Blake Medical Center in Manatee County. The DOH also approved opening those centers in 2011 and 2012.

Hospitals with longstanding trauma centers have also brought legal challenges to the DOH decision, but Ecenia hopes the Shands decision will convince them to drop their cases as well.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.