Blake trauma center off to a quick start

BRADENTON -- The new trauma program at Blake Medical Center is off to a racing start despite legal challenges from competing hospitals that oppose the expansion, officials said.

Blake became the first hospital between Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties to have an adult trauma center when the $2.5 million, two-bay expansion opened its doors Nov. 19.

Since the trauma center opened, Blake has served 119 critically injured patients from across the region.

In the past, when emergency responders were handling a life-threatening injury -- like a gunshot wound or severe auto accident -- patients were taken to the nearest hospital. From there, they were either treated in the ER or airlifted to one of the trauma centers in Tampa Bay.

Responders now are tasked with deciding in the field if a trauma patient should be taken directly to Blake. And hospitals in the Tampa Bay area are irked by their new competition.

But the program has come under attack from Bayfront Medical Center and Tampa General Hospital, which charge the Florida Department of Health with failing to follow proper legal guidelines in the approval process.

Blake will keep treating trauma patients until the court battle is resolved.

“Everything so far is going according to expectations; it’s been great,” Blake spokeswoman Stephanie Petta said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to make sure we provide this service in the long haul.”

Blake’s trauma center has been in the works for several years through planning, training and staff preparation. The hospital added about 25 employees, including four trauma surgeons, to staff the operation. Bayfront Medical Center and Tampa General Hospital want to shut down Blake’s trauma center through legal recourse in the state appellate court.

The hospitals point to a ruling in September by administrative judge David Watkins, who said the state unjustly followed an outdated process during Blake’s trauma approval, court records show.

Florida lawmakers ordered the state agency in 2004 to come up with better guidelines for reviewing new trauma center applications, but the Department of Health has failed to react, and no changes have been implemented.

To halt the legal fight, state officials have requested legislation this session that would allow only the hospital applying for a trauma center to appeal the state’s decision -- giving Bayfront and Tampa General no legal ground to stand on.

The Department of Health has since appealed Watkins’ order, and the trauma center at Blake will be allowed to continue operating until the case is fully resolved.

Representatives from both challenging hospitals declined to comment Wednesday.

Although public hospitals in both Manatee and Sarasota also will see modest declines in the number of critical-care patients treated, they said the new trauma center at Blake should ultimately benefit the local medical community at large.

“We’re not seeing the life-threatening gun shot victims anymore,” said Vernon DeSear, vice president of marketing for Manatee Memorial Hospital. “A majority of our trauma patients are now going there, but I don’t think it will present any significant changes. We’re still slammed.”

Sarasota Memorial had a similar reaction.

“It’s too early to access the impact on the community, and there’s been no affect on the hospital,” spokeswoman Kim Savage said. “We continues to treat the trauma patients that come in.”

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095.

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