Tampa Bay hospitals to drop challenge of HCA trauma centers

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A battle over the operation of trauma centers in the Tampa Bay area may soon be over.

Three Tampa Bay-area hospitals filed notifications on Friday that they will withdraw legal challenges against trauma centers at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County and Blake Medical Center in Manatee County, reports the Tampa Tribune.

Tampa General Hospital, St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Health and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa expect to end the challenge after an administrative law judge approved a new state rule last month for approving new trauma centers in Florida.

In keeping with the new rules, approval of new trauma centers will be based on a scoring system using several factors, such as population and community needs.

Bay area hospitals have been fighting the trauma centers in Manatee and Pasco since the state Department of Health approved their opening in 2011.

When Administrative Law Judge R. Bruce McKibben approved the rule in June, attorneys admitted it would be unlikely the hospitals would win in court.

Gainesville’s UF Health Shands also challenged a new Ocala Regional Medical Center trauma center. After McKibben’s ruling, Shands dropped its case.

For nearly three years the hospital industry has waged legal battles over the DoH trauma-center approval process, focused mainly on HCA health-care affiliated trauma centers at Ocala Regional, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point and Blake Medical Center.

Initially, judges found the DoH used an invalid rule to approve the facilities. The agency created a new rule, which McKibben approved.

Hospitals with longstanding trauma centers did not welcome the competition from newer providers.

More than anything else, the legal battle was over the business of health care, where trauma doctors and staff require up to 1,000 patients annually to maintain a level of expertise and revenue.

Florida’s trauma systems “have a clear financial incentive to keep new hospitals out of the pool,” according to a recent report by the American College of Surgeons.

The hospitals with older trauma centers argued that more facilities would dilute the  pool of patients, and ultimately affect the availability of medical specialists. Supporters of the HCA centers argued that an increase in Florida’s population, as well as an influx of visitors, validates any need for additional trauma centers.

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.