Compromise on Blake's, other trauma centers remains elusive at Florida Legislature

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauApril 29, 2014 

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

TALLAHASSEE -- Lawmakers in both chambers want to allow Blake Medical Center in Bradenton and two other disputed trauma centers owned by Hospital Corporation of America to continue operating, but the House and the Senate have very different ideas on how to get it done.

Lawmakers say they aren’t sure how a compromise will be reached. If nothing gets done by Friday, costly lawsuits will continue between HCA and safety net hospitals contending the HCA centers should not have been allowed to open.

The Senate approved its version of the trauma center legislation on Monday with a 33-3 vote. Language protecting the three HCA centers from legal action was amended onto Senate Bill 1354, which regulates aspects of the state’s Medicaid managed care program.

In addition to clearing the way for trauma centers at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, Blake Medical Center and Ocala Regional Medical Center to remain open, the measure creates a one-year $15,000 cap on trauma activation fees, a one-year moratorium on new trauma centers and creates an advisory committee to make recommendations for approving new trauma centers.

The fee cap, moratorium and advisory committee were added after a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed hospitals across the state were charging huge admission fees to trauma patients, and the highest charges were at HCA facilities.

The House includes its trauma center language in an omnibus health care proposal, HB 7113, that has slightly different language protecting the HCA centers. The House version doesn’t include the advisory council and has tweaks reflecting a compromise between HCA and safety net hospitals.

“I guess the House has a position on health care and the Senate has a position on health care, and we will just have to see how we line up before the end of the week,” said Senate sponsor Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.

Grimsley said she believes a trauma fix will be passed into law but it may happen just before session ends Friday.

Hospitals with long-standing trauma centers released a statement criticizing the Senate bill as inadequate.

“Safety net hospitals are disappointed that the Florida Senate today walked away from proposed House legislation that paved the way for resolving legal disputes over trauma centers and instead passed a bill that is flawed and will likely lead to continued challenges,” spokesman Ron Bartlett said via email.

The Senate’s trauma bill will now be sent to the House for consideration. Meanwhile, HB 7113 and SB 1276, which is the Senate’s original trauma proposal, are waiting to be heard on the Senate floor.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, all voted Monday against SB 1354. Joyner said she disagreed with a provision that restricted safety net trauma centers’ ability to file legal changes. She also wanted the Senate to accept a House requirement that the Ocala hospital, which currently has only provisional approval to run a trauma center, must gain verified status from the state by the end of the year to be protected from lawsuits.

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