In large states such as Florida, it is essential to carefully develop a statewide trauma care network that ensures our citizens have access to timely, life-saving care delivered by highly-trained specialists.
Over the past 30 years, Florida has built a trauma care system that is a national leader, thanks to the ongoing, close collaboration of the Florida Committee on Trauma and other healthcare providers, state health regulators, the Florida Legislature and local communities.
Now, all of those years of careful planning could be wiped away by last-minute amendments to bills being rushed through the Florida Legislature. These amendments would completely deregulate Level II trauma centers, opening the door to a proliferation of new centers that will harm the state’s existing trauma care network.
These amendments are being pushed through the final two weeks of the annual legislative session for the benefit of one national, for-profit hospital chain.
Supporters of deregulation claim that more trauma centers are good for Floridians, because it means that all citizens will have access to trauma care closer to their homes.
But as the chairman of the Florida Committee on Trauma – which includes respected trauma care surgeons and trauma nurses from across the state – I can tell you that is not true and the issue is not that simple.
Consider: As of 2010, 96 percent of Floridians lived in an area already served by an established trauma center. In Northwest Florida, there are two trauma centers in Pensacola and one at Bay Medical – Sacred Heart in Panama City.These centers are very expensive to operate and must be staffed round-the-clock by highly trained surgeons. The centers must also maintain certain minimum patient volumes to remain financially feasible and to keep specialized surgeons’ skills sharp. And there are only so many trauma surgeons available to serve Florida.
Allowing an influx of new trauma centers will threaten the existence of Florida’s existing Level I and pediatric trauma centers – which train the next generation of trauma surgeons and perform critical research to improve trauma care. Such a move will dilute the quality of trauma care statewide and increase healthcare costs for Floridians.
These late-filed amendments (tacked onto Senate Bill 966 and House Bill 817) would essentially eliminate the Florida Department of Health (DOH) role in assessing whether new trauma centers are needed or where they should be located. Instead, the amendments would simply require that if you meet a checklist of requirements the American College of Surgeons (ACS) says are necessary to operate a trauma center, you’re in.
In recent months, DOH has held numerous public hearings on developing new rules for trauma center planning in Florida and the state invited ACS to make expert recommendations. But their work isn’t completed. These amendments would scuttle that open and transparent rule-making process, and in fact, the ACS Florida chapter opposes these bills moving through the Legislature.
Without question, there is always room for improvement in Florida’s trauma care system and we welcome thoughtful recommendations. But last-minute amendments to short-cut the state’s planning process are irresponsible and ultimately harm Floridians. We strongly urge Senate and House leaders to allow the DOH and ACS to finish their rule-making efforts and to make their recommendations. And we urge voters to contact their legislators and oppose Senate Bill 966 and House Bill 817.
Dr. Karanbir Gill is Chairman of the Florida Committee on Trauma and serves as Trauma Medical Director and a Surgeon at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.