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HCA wants trauma center fight bumped to state Supreme Court

From the News Service of Florida:

Hospitals affiliated with the HCA health-care chain are seeking a rehearing in the 1st District Court of Appeal after a ruling this month cleared the way for challenges to the continued operation of trauma centers at Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County.

Documents filed Friday also request that the appeals court send two questions about the case to the Florida Supreme Court --- a process known as certifying questions of "great public importance."

Four hospitals in the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas have waged long-running legal battles against the trauma centers at the HCA hospitals in Manatee and Pasco. The Florida Department of Health allowed the trauma centers to open in 2011, despite a ruling by an administrative law judge that the department had used an invalid rule in approving the facilities.

The department later denied an attempt by the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville hospitals to challenge the approvals, saying those hospitals did not have legal standing. But the 1st District Court of Appeal this month rejected the department's position and said the challenges should be heard in the state Division of Administrative Hearings. The Tampa Bay and Jacksonville hospitals --- Tampa General Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and UF Health Jacksonville --- have long operated trauma centers.

In the documents filed Friday, HCA attorneys took issue with decisions made by a three-judge panel of the appeals court. One of those issues involves the impact of the new trauma centers on the older facilities.

"It is inevitable and unavoidable that the opening of a new trauma center will divert some trauma victims to a newly established, closer facility; by the same token, those very trauma victims receive trauma center services more quickly than they would otherwise,'' one of the documents said. While the HCA hospitals are seeking a rehearing, the Department of Health did not file any similar motions before a Friday deadline, an agency spokesman said in an email.