A Senate committee Tuesday approved a bill that could help boost efforts to build new or replacement hospitals in rural counties.
Approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee, SB 236 would expand an exemption to the state's "certificate of need" regulatory process for hospital construction or expansion projects. The state currently has a narrow exemption that applies to hospitals in counties with populations of 15,000 to 18,000 people and densities of fewer than 30 people per square mile.
Bill sponsor Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said the current exemption applies to five hospitals in 11 counties. The bill would change the criteria to apply to counties with populations of fewer than 100 people per square mile, which Grimsley said would apply to 19 additional hospitals.
The certificate-of-need process is highly controversial, and House leaders have pushed to eliminate it completely. It often leads to legal battles between hospitals about construction or expansion plans. Grimsley's bill, however, is more limited.
She said, for example, that she formerly represented Hendry County, a large sparsely populated county southwest of Lake Okeechobee. She said local officials wanted to rebuild a hospital to be more centrally located between Clewiston and LaBelle but could not afford to go through the certificate-of-need process. She said hospitals in sparsely populated areas of Northwest Florida also face similar issues.
A House version of the bill has not been filed.