Blake vows to keep trauma center in Manatee

rdymond@bradenton.comJanuary 4, 2014 

MANATEE -- Blake Medical Center officials are furious that public hospitals in Tampa are continuing their three-year fight in court to close Blake's 2-year-old trauma center in Manatee County.

"This extreme move by public hospitals that live off Floridians' tax dollars to try to close our trauma center is simply appalling," Lynne Grief, Blake Medical Center's vice president of trauma services, told the Herald this week. "It puts their profits above the health needs of the community who benefit from having trauma care available to them on this side of the bridge."

St. Joseph's Hospital and Tampa General Hospital recently filed motions with the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee to ask the court to close the trauma centers at Blake Medical Center in Manatee and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco, citing their own economic hardships if the new centers stay open, said Stephen Ecenia, an attorney representing Blake Medical Center.

The hospitals' motions specifically asked the court to enforce its mandate, asserting that the court had earlier agreed that these new centers are damaging their ability to remain solvent, Ecenia said.

But Ecenia said Friday

that Blake's position is that the court never mandated Blake should cease operations as a trauma center, only that the veteran hospitals had the right to continue to fight in court.

"St. Joseph's and Tampa General had appealed the decisions of the Department of Health to deny them standing to contest the provisional approvals of the trauma centers at Blake and Bayonet Point," Ecenia said. "The court did agree they had standing. But the court never made any order that Blake or Bayonet Point should cease operating and, in our view, St. Joseph's and Tampa General have no basis to seek that relief."

Ecenia said he will file a response on Jan. 17 in opposition to the veteran hospitals' motion.

A call to Dr. Mark Vaaler, chief medical officer at St. Joseph's in Tampa, was not returned by deadline Friday.

Three years ago, St. Joseph's and Tampa General, which are among the state's longest-running trauma centers, initiated legal action, contending that the new centers, which weren't even open yet, would cause them not to be able to maintain the level of business they needed.

Ecenia, while acknowledging that there has been some patient drop-off at the Tampa hospitals, said it has been negligible.

"Overall, the volume of patients has increased," said Ecenia, who is based in Tallahassee. "I am confident we will prevail in this lawsuit. It's just a shame there has to be so much expense for legal fees for no good reason."

The Florida Department of Health is still reworking its rules for where trauma centers can be located, which became another part of the feud between the hospitals. Courts have already ruled the old criteria is out of date.

Ecenia said he was invited to attend a Department of Health rule-making session along with six others on Jan. 23.

Meanwhile, Grief believes Blake's service should not be interrupted.

"Since 2011, our trauma center has protected the lives of patients in Trauma Service Area 13 and treated over 2,100 patients," Grief said. "We will continue to explore all of our options and to keep our trauma center open and operational so that our facility can continue to save lives."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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