Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Judge says Tampa Bay trauma hospitals will lose more money if HCA expansion is approved

The hospitals that treat the Tampa Bay area's most critically injured patients are struggling financially — and their plight could rapidly worsen if the HCA hospital chain opens competing trauma centers under a partnership with the University of South Florida.

That's the word from a Tallahassee judge, who last week sided with three bay area hospitals seeking to stop a plan to open a network of new trauma centers in the state, including one at Pasco County's Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point.

State health officials, who are reviewing HCA's applications, said Wednesday they plan to appeal the judge's decision.

Tampa General Hospital, Bayfront Medical Center and St. Joseph's Hospital led the legal challenge to the HCA-USF trauma centers. They say there simply isn't enough business for so many costly facilities that are staffed and equipped to deal with the most severe injuries. Beyond the revenue that is at stake, they argue that trauma surgeons and other staff must stay busy to maintain quality.

"A community filled with trauma centers caring for too few patients is not good for anyone, especially the patients," said Bayfront spokeswoman Kanika Tomalin. The hospital's priority "is all about patient care and preserving a level of volume that's a prerequisite to a trauma center's success."

Even without added competition, fewer people need trauma care these days, possibly because of a decline in auto accidents.

HCA's plan calls for new centers in Pasco and Manatee counties that would draw more business away from the existing Tampa Bay trauma centers. All three said in the court case that they already are losing millions of dollars in trauma care.

With added competition from HCA, the court ruling indicates, Bayfront could stand to lose 669 patients based on 2010 numbers — 42 percent of that year's volume. That would cost the hospital more than $2.3 million a year, and it already is struggling to stem operating losses.

In recent years, the court noted, Bayfront has deferred building projects due to finances, and last year posted an operating margin of less than 1 percent.

Tampa General at best is expecting to break even this year, and may even lose $4 million in operations, according to the ruling, which had less detail about St. Joseph's overall finances.

Nearly a year ago, USF made a public announcement that it was joining with for-profit HCA to run the proposed centers.

This summer, Bayfront, TGH and St. Joseph's joined with another trauma hospital, Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, to challenge a 1992 state administrative rule that could be used to approve the HCA plan.

After a hearing, Tallahassee administrative court Judge W. David Watkins declared that the rule is outdated. He said it fails to take into account factors including advancements such as more helicopters to fly trauma patients farther and advanced life support capabilities in ambulances.

In 2005, a statewide analysis led by USF investigators determined that "Tampa Bay has adequate trauma center access." But it and other recent research were never incorporated into the state's approval process.

State Surgeon General Dr. Frank Farmer said Wednesday his agency will appeal the judge's decision. And HCA, the hospital chain formerly headed by Gov. Rick Scott, vowed to fight for its new trauma centers.

"We remain committed to improving access to quality trauma care to the citizens of Florida who live in underserved areas of the state," spokeswoman Ginger Mace said in a statement.

USF spokesman Michael Hoad said the university "wasn't a party to the suit and won't be in the future, so it would be inappropriate to comment about a legal issue between other people."

TGH is the main teaching hospital of USF, which plans to run the HCA trauma centers independent of the Tampa hospital.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

How much they lost

The court ruling said Tampa Bay trauma hospitals all lost money on the costly programs in 2010.

Tampa General

$15.7 million


$3 million

St. Joseph's

$8.3 million

Judge says Tampa Bay trauma hospitals will lose more money if HCA expansion is approved 09/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 11:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics


    Winner of the week 1: 'Liquor wall’ proponents. Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a bill to allow Walmart, Target and other big box stores to sell liquor was a victory for an array of groups, from smaller merchants and Publix (which has stand-alone booze shops near its stores) to those who feel the hard stuff …

  2. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa


    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  3. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  4. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title


    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  5. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.