TALLAHASSEE — What started as a plan to shield three disputed HCA trauma centers — including Blake Medical Center in Bradenton — from legal action, and later added limits on sky-high trauma access fees, collapsed entirely late Friday as legislators failed to pass any trauma measure.
One of the most high profile issues of the session fell prey to political maneuvering as the House attempted to amend it — and a bunch of unrelated issues — onto a bill that turned into such a train that House Speaker Will Weatherford chanted “choo-choo” as it came up in his chamber. The House approved the measure, but the Senate would not take it up as session drew to a close.
“The bill got too heavy and was in trouble as soon as the House decided to use a train instead of a standalone bill,” said Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, the Senate sponsor.
The failure to grandfather Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County, Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Ocala Regional Medical Center does not mean the facilities will be shut down anytime soon. But it almost guarantees that legal challenges from long-standing trauma centers that contend HCA was improperly granted state permission to open will continue. Safety net hospitals including Tampa General Hospital, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa and UF Health Jacksonville have been embroiled in litigation that could eventually force HCA to shutter the three centers.