As “trauma drama,” winds down, Tampa Bay Times ends up on losing side

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Three years of legal battles are likely to dim, finally, for Florida HCA hospitals and their much needed trauma centers.

HCA’s foes — hospitals that would like to eliminate competition for their own — have kept Floridians throughout the state unsure about whether trauma centers in their communities would be allowed to remain open.

Shands, Tampa General, and St. Joseph’s Hospital, which fought HCA with the hope of keeping their own turf clear under the guise of maximizing resources for residents, weren’t acting alone.

Their partner this last year in this damaging litigious dance was the Tampa Bay Times, intent to brighten a public stage against HCA for reasons confounding to the newspaper’s readership, other than pursuit of another journalism award.

The Tampa Bay Times much-ballyhooed series on trauma care purported to be a serious investigation into the state of such care in Florida at a time when there are legitimate policy questions to debate on the subject. But disappointingly enough, the Times did little to advance that debate, even as its reporters and editors indulged in a round of premature self-congratulation over their series. Instead, the Times created a caricature of reality that relied on sensational anecdotes and an intentionally misleading interpretation of the facts.

Real quick, a disclosure: Yes, there are advertisers on this site who were referenced in the Times story. But there are also advertisers on this site who are on the opposite side of the trauma care debate.

To have a genuine debate about the state of trauma care and charges, there is one basic concept to take into consideration at the outset. Despite what the Times suggests, there is no dispute that hospital charges, or bills, do not reflect what patients actually pay. In late February, the Wall Street Journal made this point exactly as it argued for greater transparency (or clarity) in the way hospital bills are prepared:

 With outrage growing over incomprehensible medical bills and patients facing a higher share of the costs, momentum is building for efforts to do just that. Price transparency, as it is known, is common in most industries but rare in health care, where “charges,” “prices,” “rates” and “payments” all have different meanings and bear little relation to actual costs.”

However, the Times ignored this fact and began its investigation fishing for outrageous patient billing stories by running an advertisement in its own newspaper inviting patients who were “startled” by the size of their hospital bill to share their “hospital billing story” with the Times.

The Times’ almost singular focus on trauma activation fees was misleading and failed to answer some key questions that were raised as I read through the series.

HCA, the private hospital giant that contributes innumerable jobs and tax revenues to our neighborhoods, does — and seeks to — fill gaps in trauma coverage that flat out save lives. All along, that point has really been the only one that has mattered to this blog — and the only one that Floridians really need to know about.

HCA’s disputed trauma centers, including Blake Medical Center in Manatee County, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County, and Ocala Regional Medical Center in Marion County, can continue their exemplary service to patients unfettered now by existential threats. A proposed trauma center at Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee can also move forward now with plans to serve the enormous need in that area.

These are huge wins for all of us. Well, all of us except for the Tampa Bay Times, whose ‘investigations’ increasingly seem to be self-inflicted traumas of irony.

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.