The Florida House on Monday approved a bill that would enable Miami Children's Hospital to go around state regulations and build a small maternity ward for women with high-risk pregnancies.
The proposal passed by a 73-40 vote, and won the support of the physicians in the lower chamber.
Rep. Ronald Renaurt, an osteopathic physician from Ponte Vedra Beach, said it would make sense for Miami Children's Hospital to deliver babies on site because it is risky to transport newborn babies from one hospital to another.
"The safest way that we can transport a child is inside their mother’s womb," Renaurt said.
No lawmakers spoke out against the bill Monday. But opponents say expanding Miami Children's is unnecessary since there are at least 13 hospitals in the county that offer maternity services, seven neo-natal intensive care units, and the birth rate in the county has been on the decline.
The proposal evenly divided the 18 state reps from Miami-Dade.
Voting in favor: Reps. Frank Artiles, Jose Felix Diaz, Manny Diaz Jr., Eric Fresen, Eddy Gonzalez, Jeanette Nuñez, Jose Oliva, Holly Raschein and Carlos Trujillo.
Voting against: Reps. Michael Bileca, Daphne Campbell, Joe Gibbons, Kionne McGhee, Sharon Pritchett, David Richardson, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Cynthia Stafford, and Barbara Watson.
The split was first evident on Friday, when the bill was read on the House floor.
Watson listed the South Florida hospitals that already have both maternity wards and neonatal intensive care units. "Do you feel Dade County would need another hospital when we are sufficiently covering the area in which Miami Children’s Hospital currently provides service to?" she asked Gonzalez, the prime sponsor of the language.
"I’m from Hialeah," Gonzalez replied. "If my kid is born with some of these issues, I want them at Miami Children's, not Hialeah Hospital."
Gonzalez also faced sharp questions about how much money Miami Children's would make, and how much hospitals like Jackson would lose.
"To me, this issue isn’t about money," Gonzalez said. "For Jackson, it may be about money, but for me, it’s not about money. It's about saving lives."
The bill, HB 1159, must still be approved by the Senate. It would also enable the Villages, the 95,000-person retirement mecca, to add more than 800 nursing-home beds.
-- Miami Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed reporting.