Thirty years ago, Bayfront Health and the city of St. Petersburg made a promise to each other: The city promised to grant a multiyear land lease to Bayfront in south St. Petersburg, and the hospital promised to open a state-designated trauma center.
Bayfront Trauma opened in the mid 1980s and earned a Level II trauma center designation in 1986. It has been serving residents in our area in their most desperate times ever since. Bayfront also holds a joint state certification with our neighbors at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital to treat pediatric trauma patients. In addition, we began Bayflite Emergency Helicopter Transport services in 1986 to serve communities all across west Florida — from Charlotte County to the south to Marion County to the north. Bayflite operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with medical professionals on board providing advanced critical care.
But the very existence of all of Bayfront's trauma services is being put at risk by current Florida Department of Health practices and bills under consideration by the Legislature.
At the end of March, Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg filed an application to open a trauma center only 20 blocks away from Bayfront. We believe the Health Department's acceptance of Northside's application is in violation of Florida statutes that regulate the number of trauma centers that may operate in designated "trauma service areas."
The trauma service area for Pinellas and Pasco counties already has two state-designated Level II trauma centers: Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and Regional Medical Center at Bayonet Point in Pasco County. So by state law, our regional quota for trauma centers is full.
Trauma programs provide highly specialized services that are expensive to develop and maintain. The expansion of trauma services without demonstrated need and thoughtful consideration is not in the best interest of the community. Recent research published in the Annals of Surgery showed that significantly improved patient outcomes are directly associated with increases in the number of patients treated by a trauma center. In short, treating more patients correlates directly with better quality care.
If Northside is allowed to open another trauma center so close to Bayfront, we believe it will severely disrupt the steady and dependable care we have been providing trauma patients for these past 30 years.
Worst case? If volume falls, physicians leave and nursing staff follows, we may have to make some difficult decisions about the future of Bayfront Health's trauma center.
But there's more. The Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott are pushing for legislation that would deregulate all trauma centers in Florida. If this legislation is approved, any hospital that files an application will be provisionally approved to operate so long as it shows it is staffed with enough doctors and equipment to meet minimal standards.
Supporters of deregulation and HB 1077 argue that competition among trauma centers will improve access to care. In fact, having an unknown number of new trauma centers would do just the opposite. Studies show that the key to top-level critical care lies in concentrating resources among a few strong trauma centers — not in dispersing resources, which can weaken the level of care and lead to poorer patient outcomes. Deregulation would threaten the current high level of care Florida patients enjoy now.
The movement to deregulate trauma centers statewide and to hastily approve the opening of a Northside Hospital trauma center is being done behind the scenes, without public input. Several legislators testified last week in Tallahassee they would like to hear from constituents on this issue. We urge you to make your voices heard.
Kathryn Gillette is president and CEO of Bayfront Health.