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House panel gives Miami Children's Hospital its request to expand services

Miami Children's Hospital would be able to provide obstetrical services under a measure that was added to a controversial nursing home bill by a House committee on Thursday.

The committee, House Health and Human Services, was called specially to give a hearing to HB 1159 by Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, and the amendment for Miami Children's. O'Toole's bill would to allow The Villages to circumvent the certificate of need process to build a nursing home.

The amendment, which was originally proposed as a bill by Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, would a  allow Miami Children's also to circumvent the certificate of need process and build a 10-bed maternity wing to treat mothers in high risk births. 

Opponents chastised lawmakers for caving to lobbyist pressures and neglecting the needs of mothers in critical condition who need more comprehensive care than the children's hospital can provide.

Phyllis Oeters, vice president of government relations at Baptist Health South Florida located in Miami, said that hospitals need specialists to deal with complicated cases and there is no record of trouble now.

"No babies have died in transport over two decades to Miami Children's,'' she said. "No babies have died in ambulances." 

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, objected to the attempt to circumvent legal process to assess the need for the nursing home and Miami hospital proposals. He tried and failed to gut the bill and propose a study.

"This is all about money,'' he said.

But doctors and advocates for Miami Children's said the measure is about saving lives. "We will match every standard which is designed to keep the mother safe,'' said M. Narendra Kini, CEO of the hospital.

A similar measure is moving in the Senate and the idea has drawn opposition from other hospitals including Jackson Health System which object to Miami Children's getting an obstetrics unit because of potential public safety concerns, and the financial impact it would have on Miami-Dade’s safety net hospital.

Marcos Lapciuc, chairman of the Public Health Trust which oversees Jackson, said the public hospital is best equipped to treat adult medical emergencies that may arise during delivery.

“If something were to happen to the mother, Jackson is the place where they would take her,'' he said. "From a public safety issue, it feels like that’s a service that should remain at Jackson. We have the surgeons, a trauma unit … all under the same roof.’’

Carlos Migoya, chief executive of Jackson Health System, said the hospital's partnership with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has helped Jackson build one of  the nation's largest neonatal intensive care units and a fetal surgery program staffed by physicians with expertise in treating high-risk mothers.

"A children’s hospital doesn’t necessarily have all the equipment available,’’ he said. “The only place in Miami-Dade County today that can have this is Jackson.’’

Lapciuc estimated that a competing obstetrics unit at Miami Children’s Hospital could potentially cause the financially-struggling Jackson to lose $30 to $40 million a year in revenues.

Migoya declined to put a number on the potential financial impact to the hospital from a competing obstetrics unit. But he said the effect would be "very negative.''

-- Herald reporter Dan Chang contributed to this report.