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Trauma center battle heads to House and Senate floors

The Senate budget committee ended a marathon meeting by approving legislation that would drastically change the state's process for approving new trauma centers. As was the case in the House,this was accomplished by tacking on language to a seemingly benign bill to loosen state restrictions on opening new hospital trauma centers.

The changes to SB 966 stand to benefit hospitals in rural areas and facilities owned by for-profit companies like HCA. Long-standing trauma hospitals spoke against the measure as it was being amended today, saying the changes could hurt them financially and affect quality of care.

Mark Delegal, a lobbyist for the state's Teaching Hospital Council, said the final Appropriations Committee meeting was not the place to introduce such sweeping legislation that has been the focus of years of disagreement.

"Why in the world on the last week of committees in the Legislature would somebody bring a bill and not file a bill of this complex nature in the Health Policy Committee, work it through the process?" Delegal said. "Worst yet, the same tactical maneuver was used in the Florida House, last-minute amendment brought to the process. So, this is the kind of stuff that those who work in this process should not do, I don’t think.”

Hospitals made the same arguments Tuesday when the House Health and Human Services Committee amended then approved HB 817. The 12-5 vote included both Republicans and Democrats on each side.

Several members of the Senate Appropriations Committee said they had concerns about the bill and wanted to see changes before a floor vote, but nearly all voted to keep it alive. Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Tampa, said she was the only "no" vote.

Committee Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he supports the bill because he believes more rural hospitals should be allowed to create trauma units. 

"I've heard from representatives of and citizens that live in rural areas that are very concerned that they don't have access to the level of trauma care that they need," he said.