The state Agency for Health Care Administration asked the Florida Supreme Court this week to take up a dispute about whether a Baker County hospital can challenge plans for a new Jacksonville medical center.
The agency and West Jacksonville Medical Center want justices to overturn a 1st District Court of Appeal decision in October that allowed Baker County's Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital to challenge what is known as a "certificate of need" for the project. Certificates of need are a controversial regulatory process in which the state must approve plans for new and expanded hospitals and other types of health-care facilities.
The Agency for Health Care Administration in 2010 approved a certificate of need for the West Jacksonville hospital. But under a settlement, the certificate would not become effective until mid-2013 and licensure of the new hospital could happen no earlier than December 2016, according to the appeals-court decision.
Ed Fraser, which could face competition from the new hospital, filed a lawsuit arguing that the agency overstepped its authority in delaying the validity of the certificate of need. The 1st District Court of Appeal allowed the challenge to move forward, though it did not decide the merits of the case. That prompted the Agency for Health Care Administration and West Jacksonville Medical Center to file briefs asking the Supreme Court to hear the dispute.
The agency and West Jacksonville argued that Ed Fraser did not take part in the certificate-of-need process and should not be allowed to pursue a lawsuit that was filed in 2013.
"Without this (Supreme) Court's intervention, the (appeals court) opinion opens the door for any non-party to contest the validity of any agency final order through a declaratory action, thus placing the finality of all Florida agencies' quasi-judicial final orders in perpetual doubt,'' said the agency's brief, filed Monday. "This is a deeply unfavorable outcome from a public policy standpoint."