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Senate strikes Miami Children's maternity ward, gives Gaetzes their trauma center

Miami Children's Hospital argued that having a 10-bed labor and delivery unit on its grounds would save babies’ lives.

But the Florida Senate sided with Jackson Memorial and other Miami-area hospitals who argued that pregnant mothers would receive better care in their facilities and the current system of transporting babies born with serious complications to Miami Children's after birth is working. Senators struck language that had been added to HB 1159 to allow Miami Children’s to build its maternity unit.

The Senate is expected to approve the now-amended bill Friday and send it back to the House for final approval. Although time is running out, all may not be lost, said Rep. Eduardo Gonzalez.

The Hialeah Republican championed Miami Children’s effort in the House and indicated Thursday evening he is not ready to give up on the maternity unit. “The language is very important to me, and it’s important to a lot of members in this chamber,” he said.

A baby born who died recently at the hospital after enduring a lengthy trip from the Keys might have fared better if the labor and delivery unit were an option, Gonzalez said.

The amendment approved by the Senate also created rules to allow trauma centers to be built in a handful of rural counties in the Panhandle and Central Florida. That was a priority of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who complained the current process prevented a hospital in his district from gaining approval.

Initially, a bill filed by Gaetz to allow HCA-owned Fort Walton Beach Medical Center to circumvent the rules drew rebukes from existing trauma centers. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, worked with various stakeholders to draft the compromise contained in the Senate amendment approved Thursday.

"I didn't want to hurt any of the existing hospitals and we tried a lot of different mechanisms and we finally came up with we just allowed two new ones ... and they're both way away from any existing trauma centers," he said.

HB 1159 was initially filed so that The Villages retirement community in Central Florida could build a nursing home. The bill still accomplishes that as well, through an expedited review process.