Amid a series of legal battles across the state about new trauma centers, an administrative law judge has ruled that Bayfront Health-St. Petersburg and St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa can intervene in a case to try to prevent a rival hospital from opening a trauma center.
The ruling Friday by Administrative Law Judge Robert Cohen came in a case involving St. Petersburg's Northside Hospital, which is challenging a decision last month by the Florida Department of Health that blocked it from opening a trauma center.
Bayfront and St. Joseph's have long operated trauma centers in the Tampa Bay region and oppose the opening of another facility. They sought to intervene in the case to support the denial of Northside's application — proposed interventions that drew opposition from Northside and the Department of Health, according to an order issued Friday by Cohen.
The judge agreed to allow Bayfront and St. Joseph's to intervene, though he placed restrictions on the issues they can raise.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, Administrative Law Judge John D.C. Newton on Friday rejected arguments by Bayfront that the Department of Health should not have even considered Northside's proposal to open a trauma center. In September, Northside filed what is known as a "letter of intent" that is a key initial step in seeking state approval to open a trauma center. But Bayfront contended that the Department of Health should not be able to process the letter of intent and potentially approve a trauma center.
Bayfront's argument was based on part of state law that limits the number of trauma centers statewide to 44 and places limits in 19 different geographic regions. But Newton wrote that the department's acceptance of the letter of intent did not constitute a decision subject to challenge.
“Bayfront's claims of injury are speculative,” Newton wrote. “Every injury it fears can only occur if the department approves Northside's application. Before the feared injuries could occur, first Northside would have to file an application. Then the department would have to approve the application. At the letter of intent stage, there is no certainty that either would occur. Even at the application stage, there is no certainty of approval. The feared injury in fact is not sufficiently immediate.” After years of legal fights about opening new trauma centers, lawmakers this spring considered proposals to change the approval process. But the issue did not get heard in the Senate.