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Trauma Center Fight Now in Ads

A barrage of television adsblasting UF Health and Tampa-area hospitals is being financed by a senior advocacy group aligned with conservative causes. The ads appear to support the position of Hospital Corporation of America in a lawsuit brought by the non-profits.

The commercials claim that Tampa General Hospital, Bayfront Health and St. Joseph’s Hospital want to “pull the plug on life-saving care all over” Florida. Similar ads targeting UF Health’s Shands Hospital are part of the $250,000 media blitz, according to the Ocala Star-Banner (paywall alert).

The commercials are financed by the 60 Plus Association, which calls itself “the nation’s largest conservative seniors organization” and the “alternative to the liberal AARP.” AARP says it is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that lobbies for senior causes, and as a result must disclose its donor lists. However, 60 Plus is a political advocacy group that is not legally required to disclose from where its funding comes. And it doesn’t.

The ads revolve around a three-year-old lawsuit between these urban trauma centers and new HCA suburban centers: Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Regional Medical Center in Pasco County and Ocala Regional Medical Center. On Thursday, a former Florida Supreme Court Justice will oversee negotiations between the bickering hospitals and the Florida Department of Health, which has revamped its trauma center policies as a result of the lawsuits.

Most of the battle pits for-profit hospitals such as HCA and Health Management Associates against larger non-profit facilities, according to the Tampa Bay Times(paywall alert). Officials from HCA said they support the 60 Plus Foundation ads, but did not tell the Times if it coordinated or paid for the ads.

Officials at the non-profits are not posting opposing ads, though Bayfront Health recently launched a campaign as part of a corporate re-branding, the Times said.

Patients and hospital officials from all sides also have been featured in Tampa Bay-area media reports, including WTSPNews and WWSB ABC 7.

A great deal of money is at stake. HCA has created trauma centers in suburban areas, where trauma cases tend to be caused by traffic or household accidents, situations in which patients are more likely to be insured. The non-profit urban centers get more gunshots and knife fights and in general, the uninsured.

The suburban centers say they are needed to reduce the time it takes for patients to reach trauma care. The urban centers say that reducing the caseload for a trauma center hurts its readiness capability.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.