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Hospitals Challenging Trauma Care Proposal

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Orange Park Medical Center

Five major hospitals are challenging a proposal by the Florida Department of Health that would revamp the approval of new trauma centers — the latest chapter in years of legal wrangling about the state's trauma system.

Tampa General Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg, UF Health Jacksonville and Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers filed the challenges last week in the state Division of Administrative Hearings.

They contend that the Department of Health is overstepping its legal authority in the proposal, which would change criteria that have limited the numbers of trauma centers allowed in each of 19 areas of the state. The Department of Health began moving forward last month with the process of approving what are technically known as proposed rules.

The five hospitals have long operated trauma centers and argue that the proposal could lead to the opening of multiple new trauma centers. Florida has regulated the number of trauma centers, at least in part, because the facilities are expensive to operate and require specialized staff.

But supporters of making changes in the system have argued that additional trauma centers can shorten the distance and time for patients to receive care after getting injured in traffic accidents or other types of incidents. Perhaps the biggest supporter of adding trauma centers has been the HCA hospital company, which has successfully pushed in recent years to open new trauma facilities in some parts of the state.

The department had not filed a response as of Wednesday afternoon to the hospitals' legal challenges. But in a notice published Sept. 1, the department indicated it was proposing the changes "to develop an inclusive, sustainable trauma system that allocates trauma center need necessary to establish reasonable access to high quality trauma services."