Advertisement
  1. Health

TV ads slam Tampa Bay hospitals for opposing new trauma centers

Ads from the 60 Plus Association say public-funded hospitals are trying to “pull the plug” on the newest trauma centers. 
Published Jan. 18, 2014

Tampa Bay residents are being bombarded by menacing advertisements that accuse three leading hospitals of trying to "pull the plug on lifesaving care all over Florida."

Tampa General, St. Joseph's and Bayfront hospitals are the targets of a political-style campaign spearheaded by the 60 Plus Association, a conservative advocacy group that doesn't disclose where it gets its money. But it has acknowledged spending $250,000 on its "Save Our Trauma Centers" drive, with companion ads airing in Ocala and Tallahassee.

The attack ads mark the most in-your-face round yet in the state's long-simmering brawl over who gets to run the trauma centers that treat the most critically injured patients. The intensifying fight has pitted long-established trauma centers against the powerful HCA hospital chain, whose new statewide trauma network includes hospitals in Pasco and Manatee counties.

At stake, the ads suggest, is life or death.

Sirens flash as a medical team races through a hospital with a stretcher. "Trauma care centers save thousands of lives," the ad begins, "but Tampa General, Bayfront and St. Joseph's want to close our local trauma centers. They're suing to shut down Bayonet Point and Blake Medical trauma centers."

"Don't let them put their bottom line ahead of our lives," it warns, fading to a flat-lining heartbeat.

The hospitals targeted by the ads all say they are little more than "false advertising," in the words of Dr. Steven Epstein, trauma medical director at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

The mini-medical drama glosses over the complexities of a 3-year-old fight involving more than a dozen lawsuits and almost as many hospitals.

Courts have said that the state rules used to approve the new HCA trauma centers were outdated. The Florida Department of Health has spent a year retooling its trauma maps, but the proposed changes remain contested. The major players are meeting in Tallahassee on Thursday to try to negotiate a break in the impasse.

A similar ad is now airing in Ocala and Gainesville, where UF Health Shands Hospital has challenged another new HCA trauma center.

The 60 Plus Association would not reveal the donors behind the ads. The organization, founded in 1992, characterizes itself as a "conservative alternative" to the AARP, the senior advocacy group. Its top issues include ending the federal estate tax and repealing Obamacare.

As a politically active nonprofit, 60 Plus can spread its influence without having to reveal the source of its funding. In recent years, the Virginia-based organization has received millions from groups tied to the conservative Koch brothers, according to research by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

By phone, the Times asked HCA whether it funded the advertisements or coordinated messages with the 60 Plus Association. The company issued a statement that didn't address that question. In an email, the Times again asked about HCA's relationship to 60 Plus and whether it provided financing or messaging.

A spokeswoman declined to answer.

"We stand with 60 Plus and the tens of thousands of Florida seniors who adamantly oppose shutting down life-saving trauma centers to protect the profits of Tampa General, Shands UF, St. Joseph's and Bayfront," a HCA spokeswoman said in a statement. "We think it's irresponsible and incredibly short-sighted for these hospitals to put profits ahead of quality, accessible trauma care."

Of the targeted hospitals, three — Tampa General, St. Joseph's and Shands UF — are not-for-profit. HCA is a for-profit company, as now is Bayfront, which was recently purchased by Health Management Associates.

HCA signaled that it will be looking to state lawmakers this spring to settle the ongoing fight.

"As the Legislature continues to look at access to trauma care for all Floridians, we hope they will address the dozens of legal challenges that continue to plague the ability of our state's trauma system to save more lives," it stated.

The 60 Plus ads aim to drum up grass roots support by directing viewers to visit saveour traumacenters.org, where they can generate a letter in support of the new trauma centers to send to state representatives.

The hospitals opposing the HCA expansion have long said that more isn't necessarily better when it comes to trauma care, where medical experts need to treat a sufficient volume of trauma cases annually to stay at the top of their game.

It's purely coincidence that Bayfront has been airing advertisements highlighting its emergency room services, officials said. The Bayfront ads are part of a branding campaign for the regional network of hospitals now sharing its name.

No airwave counteroffensive is in the works for Tampa's two trauma centers, Tampa General and St. Joseph's. Both remain committed to their opposition of the HCA trauma expansion.

"When you can't support your position legally and medically," Tampa General spokesman John Dunn said, "then you will resort to emotionally charged fear tactics to try to win your argument."

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. FILE  - In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, a man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette in Portland, Maine. Walmart says it will stop selling electronic cigarettes at its namesake stores and Sam's Clubs following a string of illnesses and deaths related to vaping.  The nation's largest retailer said Friday, Sept. 20 that it will complete its exit from e-cigarettes after selling through current inventory. It cited growing federal, state and local regulatory complexity regarding vaping products. ROBERT F. BUKATY  |  AP
    The nation’s largest retailer said Friday that it will complete its exit from e-cigarettes after selling through current inventory.
  2. Erik Maltais took an unconventional path to becoming CEO of Immertec, a virtual reality company aimed at training physicians remotely. He dropped out of school as a teenager, served in Iraq in the Marine Corps and eventually found his way to Tampa. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    Software from Immertec can bring physicians into an operating room thousands of miles away.
  3. Homeowner Cheryl Murdoch, 59, explains the workings of the Philips Smart Mirror in her bathroom. Murdoch and her husband live in the Epperson neighborhood in Wesley Chapel, home of the Crystal Lagoon, where some residents are piloting new health technologies inside their homes. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    In Pasco’s Crystal Lagoon community, AdventHealth and Metro Development Group are testing in-home technology aimed at keeping people away from the hospital.
  4. Dr. Paul McRae was the first black chief of staff at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Dr. McRae died on September 13, 2019. He was photographed here in the Tampa Bay Times photo studio for the 2008 Dr. Carter G Woodson Museum's "Legends Honorees" gala. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Times
    ‘His extraordinary example paved the way for so many others.’
  5. Michael Jenkins spent seven days at North Tampa Behavioral Health last July. Since then, he says his three children have been afraid he’ll leave and not come home. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times
    The patients have no choice, and the hospital is making millions.
  6. Samantha Perez takes a call for someone in need of counseling at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay earlier this year. The center handles calls dealing with suicide, sexual assault, homelessness and other traumatic situations. They also do outreach and counseling, and operate Transcare, an ambulance service. JONES, OCTAVIO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Florida’s mental health care system saves lives.
  7. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County identified a positive case of hepatitis A in a food service worker at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City on Oct. 22, 2018. [JOSH FIALLO | Times] JOSH FIALLO | TIMES  |  JOSH FIALLO | Times
    Slightly more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated this year — a huge jump from the 49,324 people vaccinated in all of 2018.
  8. FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2014, file photo, a patron exhales vapor from an e-cigarette at a store in New York. Under the Trump administration, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb kicked off his tenure in 2017 with the goal of making cigarettes less addictive by drastically cutting nicotine levels. He also rebooted the agency’s effort to ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes. But those efforts have been largely eclipsed by the need to respond to an unexpected explosion in e-cigarette use by teens. AP
    Hundreds of people nationwide have come down with lung illness related to vaping.
  9. This May 2018, photo provided by Joseph Jenkins shows his son, Jay, in the emergency room of the Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, S.C. Jay Jenkins suffered acute respiratory failure and drifted into a coma, according to his medical records, after he says he vaped a product labeled as a smokable form of the cannabis extract CBD. Lab testing commissioned as part of an Associated Press investigation into CBD vapes showed the cartridge that Jenkins says he puffed contained a synthetic marijuana compound blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe. JOSEPH JENKINS  |  AP
    The vapor that Jenkins inhaled didn’t relax him. After two puffs, he ended up in a coma.
  10. H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is the centerpiece of Project Arthur, an 800-acre corporate park that could include up 24 million square feet of office and industrial space on nearly 7,000 acres of what is now ranch land, but targeted for development in central Pasco. Times
    The H. Lee Moffitt facility is the centerpiece of an economic development effort in a proposed 800-acre corporate park.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement