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Health News Florida

Trauma Center Dispute Postponed

An administrative law judge Wednesday postponed until July a high-profile case that involves a challenge to the approval of a trauma center at Ocala Regional Medical Center.

The hearing, in a challenge filed by UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, was scheduled to start May 28. But Judge James H. Peterson III agreed to a delay because of another case that focuses on a proposed rule that the Florida Department of Health wants to use in approving trauma centers.

Shands and other hospitals have challenged the validity of the proposed rule, and a hearing is scheduled to end May 22 in that case. A document filed Tuesday indicates all sides agreed to postpone the Ocala Regional hearing while awaiting the outcome of the other case.

"If the proposed rule is upheld, the issues remaining in the current (Ocala) controversy will narrow significantly,'' said the document, signed by attorneys representing Ocala Regional.

Peterson's order said the rescheduled hearing would start July 28 and could last until Aug. 5. The Ocala case is part of a series of ongoing legal battles about the Department of Health's decisions in 2011 and 2012 to allow trauma centers to open at Ocala Regional, Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County.

Judges found that the department used an invalid rule in approving the new trauma centers, which has spurred litigation that could threaten the facilities' continued operation. Along with UF Health Shands, hospitals in the Tampa Bay area have filed the challenges. Those hospitals have long operated trauma centers. Lawmakers this spring considered bills that would have ensured the disputed trauma facilities could remain open, but the bills died at the end of the legislative session.

CONTRACT APPROVED FOR FIRST FLORIDA POLYTECHNIC PRESIDENT

After approval of a contract Thursday by the school's trustees, Randy Avent is expected to start work July 7 as the first president of the new Florida Polytechnic University. Avent, who currently serves as associate vice chancellor of research development at North Carolina State University, will make a salary of $385,000, according to a news release from Florida Polytechnic. The contract also would allow Avent to receive a performance bonus of up to 20 percent of his salary beginning the second year of his employment. It also includes a 15 percent contribution to a deferred retirement plan, along with transportation and housing reimbursement, the news release said. The state university system's Board of Governor's still needs to confirm Avent's hiring. Avent was offered the job last month after becoming one of two finalists. Florida Polytechnic, which is in Lakeland, will start offering classes in August.

TECO WEIGHS IN AGAINST BABCOCK RANCH UTILITY

Though it does not serve the area, Tampa Electric Co. this week objected to a proposal that could lead to a new utility serving the planned Babcock Ranch development in Southwest Florida. Tampa Electric pointed to territorial agreements, approved by the state Public Service Commission, that divide the state among electric utilities. It said a plan filed with the commission about a potential new utility to serve the massive Babcock Ranch development in Charlotte County would set a bad precedent and be a "threat to the stability" provided by regulation of territories. "Tampa Electric relies heavily on the stability provided by the commission's approval and enforcement of territorial agreements between and among electric utilities in Florida,'' Tampa Electric said in a filing Tuesday with the commission. "The company makes significant decisions, both investment and operational, in reliance upon that stability." The Babcock Ranch Community Independent Special District asked the commission in March to sign off on the utility plan, which it said was authorized by the Legislature. The plan has drawn opposition from Lee County Electric Cooperative, which in the past has been approved with Florida Power & Light to serve areas that overlap with the Babcock district. But the Babcock district fired back at Lee County Electric Cooperative in a document filed with the Public Service Commission last month, pointing to state law. "The Babcock district law does not state that the district's powers shall be subservient to pre-existing territorial agreements,'' the April 22 document said.