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Rift over Tampa Bay trauma centers drags on in court

TALLAHASSEE — A fight among hospitals that could shape one high-profile aspect of medical care — trauma centers — reached the state's second highest court Thursday.

Attorneys representing two for-profit hospitals in Tampa Bay argued that a 20-year-old rule used to approve their new trauma centers is not out of date. But the other side — three Tampa Bay nonprofit hospitals and another in Jacksonville — said new trauma centers that are opening around the state could create financial and staffing challenges at existing centers and threaten patient care.

They urged the 1st District Court of Appeal to allow an administrative judge's ruling that invalidated the 1992 rule to stand.

"We're talking about a system that is very costly to provide, and there are practical limitations relating to staffing," said Jeff Frehn, an attorney representing St. Petersburg's Bayfront Medical Center and Tampa General Hospital.

St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and Shands Jacksonville Medical Center are also involved in challenging the rule used to okay new trauma centers at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson and Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

The Hudson and Bradenton hospitals are owned by for-profit HCA, the nation's largest private hospital chain and a company once run by Gov. Rick Scott.

Lawyers representing Bayonet Point and Blake said the administrative judge went too far when he threw out the 1992 rule and didn't consider all the existing laws governing trauma centers. Both hospitals have already launched their new trauma programs since the state granted them provisional approval late last year.

Bayfront has already experienced a steep decrease in patients from outside Pinellas County, the Times reported on Wednesday.

The appellate judges didn't indicate when they will rule on the case. Meanwhile, the nonprofit hospitals have also filed a separate legal challenge to the application process used to approve the new trauma centers.

Staff writer Letitia Stein contributed to this report. Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Rift over Tampa Bay trauma centers drags on in court 09/06/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:15pm]
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