The legal dramas that have swirled around Florida’s trauma system in recent years would be settled under a bill that revamps rules and regulations and recognizes trauma centers at some HCA Healthcare facilities across the state.
The Senate on Tuesday voted unanimously to pass the bill (HB 1165), one day after the House voted 110-0 to approve it. The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it into law.
Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Dana Young, a Tampa Republican who started meeting with various hospital representatives last summer on the trauma issue, said the bill ends years of legal wrangling and adds provisions aimed at preventing the litigation from ever occurring again.
Young told The News Service of Florida there were “hours and hours of meetings” with representatives of various hospitals, including Jackson Memorial in Miami-Dade County, HCA and “safety net” facilities.
“I asked them,” Young said, recalling the meetings, “how much do they really want to get this done?”
The Legislature for the past several years has grappled with the trauma system and whether to continue with current regulations or to allow a more competitive environment that would increase the number of trauma facilities in the state.
The debate has come after HCA moved to open several trauma centers, which drew legal challenges from hospitals that have long operated trauma facilities.
Under current law and regulations, Florida has a statewide cap of 44 trauma centers, with facilities allocated to 19 “trauma service areas.” It also includes different classifications of trauma centers based, in part, on levels of care they provide.
Supporters of the longstanding limits on trauma centers have contended that the facilities are expensive to operate and require highly trained doctors and staff members. But HCA and its backers say opening more trauma centers help improve access to care for severely injured patients.
The bill would change the number of trauma-service areas from 19 to 18 and make clear that no service area could have more than a total of five Level I, Level II, Level II/pediatric, and stand-alone pediatric trauma centers. A trauma service area could not have more than one stand-alone pediatric trauma center.
The bill would require the Florida Department of Health by Oct. 1 to establish an 11-member Florida Trauma System Advisory Council. The group would be required to meet no later than Jan. 5 and quarterly thereafter.
Moreover, the bill would put into statutes a new “need formula” for the approval of trauma centers. Under the new formula, it will be difficult to produce new trauma centers any time soon, said Mark Delegal, general counsel for the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which includes public, teaching and children’s hospitals.
Delegal said the bill will ensure a quality trauma system for the foreseeable future and bring to an end to years of litigation.
“Importantly, the bill recreates a trauma advisory council with leading experts to maintain and improve trauma care in Florida,” he said.
The bill “grandfathers” in three HCA trauma centers: Kendall Regional Medical Center’s Level I trauma center, which allows it to operate a pediatric trauma center; Orange Park Medical Center’s Level II trauma center; and Aventura Hospital & Medical Center’s level II trauma center.
A fourth HCA facility, Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, would be prevented from moving ahead with a trauma center.
The agreement also gives Jackson South in Miami the ability to open a trauma center. Along with Young, the legislation was sponsored by Rep. Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican.