State shouldn't shutter Blake's trauma center

January 18, 2014 

Blake Medical Center in Bradenton has a Level II trauma unit. PHOTO PROVIDED.

Florida's Legislature should hear this message from Manatee County residents and Blake Medical Center: Don't close the Bradenton hospital's 2-year-old trauma center. The bitter battle between the state's two newest trauma units and nearby long-established centers has spawned numerous lawsuits, and this week the House Health Innovation subcommittee dove into the issue.

The hospitals are fighting over patients and their payments -- not their health, not their lives. St. Joseph's Hospital and Tampa General Hospital recently asked the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee to shutter trauma centers at Blake and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco, specifically citing economic hardship from the competition and challenging the legality of the new units.

Since opening, Blake's unit has treated more than 2,100 patients. They avoid a time-wasting helicopter or ambulance ride north of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Their families have far easier access for visitation. With the uptick in trauma patients across the state from the rising number of residents and visitors, there are enough to keep all the units solvent.

According to Blake officials, the patient loss in the two older centers has been negligible. The court should be interested in hearing the hard numbers.

The state Department of Health has been dragging its feet in rewriting rules that determine where trauma centers can be located, updating antiquated regulations. This, too, is part of the hospital battle.

Oddly enough, both St. Joseph's and Tampa General reside in Tampa. How does one city deserve two trauma units while none existed in Manatee and Sarasota counties until Blake opened one? Plus, there's Bayfront Medical Center's center in St. Petersburg, which is also involved in the lawsuits. Three in one metropolitan area raises questions about oversaturation.

This is about saving lives with more expeditious emergency care.

The Tampa hospitals are wasting a lot of money on lawsuits -- and forcing the two new centers to pay for expensive legal teams as well.

In an interview with the Herald this month, Lynne Grief, Blake Medical Center's vice president of trauma services, didn't mince words in condemning the lawsuits: "This extreme move by public hospitals that live off Floridians' tax dollars to try to close our trauma center is simply appalling. 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."

Indeed.

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