Greedy Florida hospitals try to protect profits by blocking new trauma centers

Two bills wending their way through the Legislature would give Floridians better access to life-saving trauma care – a critical need in a state that’s scraping the bottom in national rankings on access to emergency treatment.

And yet a turf battle has broken out in the emergency care industry, with tax-exempt hospitals trying to protect their profits by blocking new trauma centers. If they win, guess who loses? The emergency patient.

That’s why some key legislative leaders are backing the two pro-patient bills.

One measure, CS/SB 1276, sponsored by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and the Senate Health Policy Committee, would reform the state’s regulatory process to make it easier for new trauma centers to open.

The second, CS/HB 7113, sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and the House Health Care Appropriations and Health Innovation subcommittees, would put the brakes on efforts to stop health-care giant HCA from opening new trauma centers around the state. The centers have already gotten state approval, but thanks to a propaganda campaign launched by taxpayer-financed hospitals with competing trauma centers, an administrative judge and an appeals court overruled their approvals on technical grounds.

CS/HB 7113 would restore sanity to the landscape, allowing HCA to keep the trauma centers open and deliver critical care to patients in need.

“As Florida continues to grow, it is critical that we take steps to create more access for every community in this state to trauma care,” Jim Hart, chairman of Floridians for Government Accountability, said in a statement released Wednesday.

The bills’ supporters say opposition to the centers is rooted in one cause: greed. According to Floridians for Government Accountability, which is backing both measures, hospitals with their own trauma centers don’t want new competition encroaching on their turf and peeling patients away from their emergency rooms.

“This blatant attempt to control market share is not good for consumers, and just as important, it is not good for our economy,” Hart said in the statement. “When companies look at relocating to Florida, one of the first things they will check is for access to quality healthcare.  We need more trauma centers.”

Competition is exactly what Florida needs, because even though the Sunshine State is on the verge of passing New York in becoming the nation’s third most-populous state, its trauma care system hasn’t kept pace with the growth, Hart’s group points out.

Consider these shameful distinctions:

  • Florida ranks 43rd nationally in trauma centers per million in population, according to Floridians for Government Accountability.
  • The 2014 American College of Emergency Physicians report card ranked Florida 49th in the nation for access to emergency care.
  • The emergency physicians college report card gave Florida an “F” for its access to emergency care.

The failures are critical in light of a peer-reviewed study published by the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery that demonstrated how important access to trauma care is in a country where accidental injuries are the No. 1 cause of death for people between the ages of 1 and 44.

A 10-year study conducted in California between 1999 and 2009 found that closing trauma centers, and the resulting increase in transportation time for accident victims, contributed to a sharp increase in mortality rates from accidental injuries.

In their conclusion, the study’s authors wrote:

Our findings indicate that [trauma center] closure and the resulting increase in drive times to trauma care for patients are associated with increased odds of inpatient mortality from injury. In addition, injured patients who enjoyed a decrease in drive time to their nearest [trauma center] had lower odds of inpatient mortality.

In a brochure laying out their case for trauma care reform, Floridians for Government Accountability cited the California study and faulted opponents for engaging in a “food fight,” describing detractors as “non-profit, government-subsidized hospitals who have been fighting against private enterprise providing trauma care.”

While reform opponents play on their nonprofit status for public sympathy, the group argues, hospitals that rely on an outmoded system of providing trauma care aren’t fulfilling the mission to deliver efficient, quality health care.

“We believe that the trauma reform bills being considered by both the Senate and the House will reform the process, put a reasonable cap on trauma care fees, and add a significant dose of transparency to our healthcare system,” Hart said. “We urge the Senate and the House to pass their reform measures, and we recommend that the Governor sign it into law.”

Joe Saunders

Joe Saunders, a 25-year newspaper veteran, is a staff writer and editor for BizPac Review who lives in Tallahassee and covers capital and Florida politics. Email Joe at [email protected].

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