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Judge: State Erred In Handling Of Trauma Center

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An administrative law judge has ruled that the Florida Department of Health improperly allowed a Miami-Dade County hospital to operate an upgraded trauma center amid a legal challenge from competing hospitals.

But Administrative Law Judge Cathy Sellers said in a 15-page decision last week that she does not have the legal authority to require the department to reverse a decision that allowed Kendall Regional Medical Center to begin operating what is known as a "provisional Level 1" trauma center.

Sellers wrote that Nicklaus Children's Hospital, which challenged the department's go-ahead for Kendall Regional, could take the issue to circuit court. Florida's trauma system, which has been the subject of years of legal battles in the hospital industry, includes Level 1, Level 2 and pediatric trauma centers. Level 1 facilities are required by law to meet pediatric-trauma center standards and also have formal research and education programs.

The Department of Health this year gave "provisional" approval for Kendall Regional to upgrade from a Level 2 to a Level 1 trauma facility, but the decision quickly drew administrative legal challenges from Nicklaus Children's Hospital and the Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County, which includes the Jackson hospital system. The department allowed Kendall to begin operating as a Level 1 trauma center while the challenges were pending, spurring Nicklaus Children's Hospital to seek a ruling by Sellers.