Ocala Regional to challenge Shands' legal interest in Ocala trauma center
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 4:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 4:58 p.m.
OCALA — Lawyers for a hospital in Ocala are asking an appeals court to reconsider a recent decision involving its trauma center and how it impacts UF Health Shands Hospital.
Shands contends that the Florida Department of Health did not have the authority to grant Ocala Regional Medical Center permission to open its trauma center last year. Shands also has complained that the new trauma program is costing Shands at least a quarter of its trauma business and will affect its ability to garner grants to pay for trauma-related studies.
Ocala Regional, which is owned by Hospital Corporation of America, is arguing that the trauma center is needed — and that the number of patients it has helped testifies to that need.
"Given the significant contributions Ocala Regional Trauma Center has made saving lives in Marion and surrounding counties, we are pleased that (HCA) is appealing the disappointing order by the 1st District Court of Appeal," said Darwin Ang, Ocala Regional's medical director of trauma services.
"Our state-of-the-art trauma facility was opened to provide life-saving trauma care in our previously underserved community," he said.
Ocala Regional said it has treated 1,469 trauma patients since opening in December, with a 97 percent survival rate.
But Shands lawyers contend the issue at hand is not the number of people helped thus far by Ocala Regional. Rather, Shands' argument is based on the process that FDOH used in granting HCA permission to open the trauma center, and DOH's refusal to allow Shands to argue against Ocala Regional's move.
"Give us our day in court," Shands lawyer Seann Frazier said Tuesday.
The new trauma center serves Marion, Lake, Sumter and Citrus counties. Until the new trauma center opened, most area trauma patients were sent to Shands.
The dispute over Ocala Regional's trauma center stems from a long series of legal maneuvers involving the Department of Health, HCA and other hospitals with new trauma centers.
The legal story started in 2004 when the Florida Legislature told the Department of Health to update its rules concerning trauma centers. The rules had not changed since 1992.
But the department did not act. And in September 2011 an administrative law judge found that the department rules for determining the location and need for trauma centers were invalid.
In November, the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld that administrative law judge's ruling. But the Department of Health granted Ocala Regional its provisional status before the appellate court's decision technically took effect — thus allowing the new trauma center to slip in just under the legal wire.
Frazier said Shands should have been heard by DOH during the trauma application process because Shands was "substantially affected."
But Ocala Regional contends that it acted in good faith with the DOH and has spent several million dollars in setting up the trauma center.
"We have made significant initial and long-term financial investments to build Ocala Regional's new trauma center with the goal of saving more lives by providing local access to quality trauma care for our community," Ang said. "Our appeal to the court's ruling demonstrates our long-term commitment to work with the state of Florida to keep our trauma center open."
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.