Legislation Adding More Trauma Centers Moves In Florida House, Stalls In Senate

Apr 25, 2017

Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, has revamped his legislation on the state’s trauma centers. It’s not clear whether the House bill will make it through the Senate because the Senate’s legislation on trauma centers is already dead.

Steve Ecenia, with the Hospital Corporation of America, said the number of patients being treated at Orange Park Medical Center shows there’s a need for two trauma centers in the area. Previously UF Health Jacksonville was the only trauma center in the five county area, which includes Clay and Duval counties.

“It’s not a small volume center and it certainly underscores the fact that there’s a desperate need for more than one trauma center to serve this this big geographic area that spans from Baker County to the east, Nassau County to the north, all the way down to St. Johns County,” he said.

The state requires each of the 19 trauma service areas to have at least one Level I or Level II trauma center. UF Health Jacksonville is a level one trauma center and cares for the most severely injured patients. It opposed the creation of Orange Park, which opened in Clay County with a temporary level two status less than a year ago.

UF Health was one of several hospitals who filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health for letting the Orange Park facility open. A judge earlier this year ruled the health department shouldn’t have allowed that, but the courts can’t force it to close.

The Florida Hospital Association and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida argue the rules should be kept the way they are now. Mark Delegal of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance points to the judge's ruling there was no need for Orange Park.

“How I view this which is an amendment and I say this respectfully gives Orange Park a trauma center whether there’s a need or not," he said."I think it’s worthy of pointing out that when litigation was commenced about this, there was a determination that there was no need in Orange Park. But this by legislative fiat says there is a need.”

Trauma surgeon Michael Cheatham said Level I trauma centers like Orlando Regional Medical Center have the skilled staff and resources to save critically injured people other hospitals don’t have. Orlando Regional cared for victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

“It was a very brief phone call," Cheatham said. "He said ‘I have 20 gun shot wounds coming, I need you.’ And so I immediately said I’m on the way. Before I hung up the phone, I said ‘Chad call everyone,’ because I knew that we needed as many hands as possible because of the number of victims. Well, it wasn’t 20, it was ultimately 44.”

Cheatham and others argue opening more trauma centers will deplete Level I facilities of staff and resources. But Trumbull’s bill requires at least two trauma centers for service areas with more than 1.2 million people. That would mean Orange Park can stay open.

Trumbull’s measure originally called for no cap on the number of trauma centers in the state, which was also supported by Governor Rick Scott.

Legacy trauma centers have filed legal challenges over the years whenever the department has proposed reducing or adding trauma centers. Trumbull said he’s trying to stop the lawsuits with his bill.

“The department has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few months dealing with these contentious litigation," he said. "Thirty-five cases since 2011 have been filed.”

While the for-profit HCA hospital chain supports the bill, the Senate may choose not to bring it for a vote. A companion measure by Sen. Travis Hutson died in committee.