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Senate committee backs more regulation of plastic surgery centers

Citing multiple deaths of patients after botched plastic surgeries in South Florida, a Senate committee voted Monday to advance a proposal that would tighten regulations for offices performing such procedures across the state.

Members of the Senate Health Policy committee voted unanimously to approve SB 732, filed by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, which would direct the state Department of Health to set requirements for registration of such clinics and require them, if not completely owned by a licensed doctor, to show financial responsibility for claims against them. The bill would also increase the state’s ability to enforce those regulations by revoking a center’s registration, restricting offices from reopening and imposing fines.

Flores cast the bill as a way to demand accountability from clinics where patients had died and said it would give the state “the tools they need to shut down these butcher shops.” She cited some of the victims named in a recent USA TODAY investigation on plastic surgery deaths in South Florida — including 30-year-old Jasmine Smith from New Jersey and Heather Meadows, 29, from West Virginia — who came to Miami seeking what they thought were safe, simple cosmetic procedures.

“There were never able to go back home because they died,” Flores said. “I mention all those names so you can see that this is really a national problem.”

The bill included a substantial amendment Monday, crafted with medical doctors’ associations, that changed the bill’s focus from physician licensure laws to those overseeing healthcare clinics. Flores also noted that the Board of Medicine is revisiting new rules for surgeries in such clinics next month, but said the legislation closes a loophole that unscrupulous offices have been able to exploit.

“Our conversations with DOH were that they don't have the authority to go after the clinics — they just have the ability to go after the individual doctors,” she later said.

Some legislators raised questions about a provision in the bill that would require certified registered nurse anesthetists to operate under a “written protocol” with an anesthesiologist, citing concerns about increased costs that might be passed onto a patient and hindering nurse anesthetists’ ability to operate independently.

Flores said she was open to changing the language of the bill, but also described those objections later as the criticism of a special-interest group.

Those providers “already have a protocol” with a physician, she told reporters after the meeting. The new provision “would just be switching over.”

The bill has two more stops before it can reach the Senate floor.