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Trauma center fight shifts to Legislature

In recent years, for-profit hospital company HCA has opened trauma centers statewide, including Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson and Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. But HCA's trauma push has been opposed by longstanding trauma hospitals who argued they would be hurt not only financially, but because fewer patients would mean trauma teams wouldn't have enough patients to keep their skills at their peak.

These hospitals — including Tampa General and Bayfront Medical Center — won at least a temporary victory late last year when Florida courts declared invalid a 20-year-old rule used to justify the new HCA programs. State health officials are now rewriting the trauma rules — efforts that could be undone by the Legislature through a series of last-minute bills.

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved legislation Tuesday that was filed just hours before the vote and retooled on the fly with amendments scribbled by hand. A companion Senate bill that could see its first public airing on Thursday is also being rushed through in the waning days of the session.

"This is a contentious issue, but it shouldn't be," said House sponsor Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, acknowledging the legislation aims to create more lenient standards for approving new trauma centers. "We have this protectionist system that punishes people in the greatest need of acute medical care."

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