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Politics / Issues

Bill Helping Pasco, Manatee Trauma Centers

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A House panel Monday overwhelmingly approved a proposal (HB 7113) that would ensure the continued operation of three hospital trauma centers that are threatened by long-running legal challenges.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee voted 11-2 to approve the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, which is designed to keep open Blake Medical Center in Manatee County, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County and Ocala Regional Medical Center in Marion County.

Supporters argue that additional trauma centers, all owned by the for-profit HCA Healthcare chain, provide better access to care.

"I think the closer we can get care to the people who need it, the better,'' said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who voted for the bill.

But opponents of the bill contend that the additional trauma centers take away patients from existing trauma facilities, which are expensive to run and have highly trained physicians and staff.

"In trauma care, volume equals quality,'' said Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat who was one of the two dissenters, along with Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood. The bill stems from nearly three years of litigation that has involved several hospitals and the Florida Department of Health.

The hospitals in Manatee, Pasco and Marion counties were allowed by the state to open trauma centers in 2011 and 2012. But they have faced continuing legal challenges from other hospitals that have operated trauma facilities for years. Those hospitals are Tampa General Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville and UF Health Jacksonville.

An administrative law judge and the 1st District Court of Appeal found that the department used an invalid rule in approving the new trauma centers, which has led to subsequent legal challenges that threaten their continued operation.

HCA and its supporters are lobbying lawmakers to pass legislation during this spring's session that would make sure the facilities remain open and to potentially change laws about the approval of future trauma centers. The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to take up a Senate proposal (SB 1276) today.

Surgical Centers Could Provide More Care

In a proposal drawing criticism from the hospital industry, a House panel Monday narrowly approved a bill that would allow ambulatory surgical centers to provide care to patients for longer periods of time.

The bill (HB 7111), filed by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would allow patients to stay in the centers for up to 24 hours. Current law requires patients to be discharged the same working day and does not allow overnight stays.

Also, the bill would allow the creation of "recovery care centers," where patients could go for up to 72 hours and receive such care as rehabilitation services. The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee voted 7-5 to approve the bill.

"It is about the patient and providing the best health care for that patient,'' Steube said before the vote.

But Bill Bell, general counsel for the Florida Hospital Association, said the measure could lead to a shift of patients away from hospitals, including patients who have insurance.

"This is not the time to start creating new entities to take patients out of hospitals,'' Bell said.