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Scott Signs Bill Aimed At Ending Trauma Disputes

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
US Army Medical Command
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Gov. Rick Scott signed 38 bills into law on Wednesday, including a measure that supporters hope will end years of battling in the hospital industry about the approval of trauma centers.

The House and Senate voted unanimously this month to approve the trauma bill (HB 1165), which came after lengthy negotiations involving safety-net hospitals and the for-profit HCA hospital company.

Legal battles have repeatedly flared in recent years as HCA has moved forward with plans to open trauma centers at several of its hospitals, drawing opposition from hospitals with long-established trauma facilities. The Florida Department of Health, which approves trauma centers, has been embroiled in the battles.

Under longstanding state law and regulations, Florida has had a statewide cap of 44 trauma centers, with facilities allocated to 19 “trauma service areas.” The system also has included different classifications of trauma centers based, in part, on levels of care they provide.

The bill would change the number of trauma-service areas from 19 to 18 and make clear that no service area could have more than a total of five Level I, Level II, Level II/pediatric, and stand-alone pediatric trauma centers. A trauma service area could not have more than one stand-alone pediatric trauma center.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, and Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Dana Young, R-Tampa, also includes establishing an 11-member Florida Trauma System Advisory Council and putting into law a new “need formula” for the approval of trauma centers.

The bill also “grandfathers” in three HCA trauma centers: Kendall Regional Medical Center’s Level I trauma center, which allows it to operate a pediatric trauma center; Orange Park Medical Center’s Level II trauma center; and Aventura Hospital & Medical Center’s level II trauma center.

A fourth HCA facility, Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, would be prevented from moving ahead with a trauma center. Jackson South in Miami would have the ability to open a trauma facility.

Supporters of the longstanding limits on trauma centers have contended that the facilities are expensive to operate and require highly trained doctors and staff members. But HCA and its backers say opening more trauma centers helps improve access to care for severely injured patients.

Scott has been steadily signing bills from the legislative session that ended March 11. His office released the list of 38 bills early Wednesday evening.

Other bills signed included:

--- HB 1011, which requires homeowners’ insurance policies to make clear that they do not cover flood damage.

--- HB 155, which designates Florida cracker cattle as the official state heritage cattle breed.

--- HB 491, which increases the criminal fine for theft of a commercially farmed animal or a bee colony from $5,000 to $10,000.

--- HB 333, which exempts from the law enforcement basic-recruit training program people who served at least five years with U.S. military special-operations forces.