TALLAHASSEE — Three Tampa Bay-area hospitals filed notices last week that they are dropping legal challenges against trauma centers at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, in Hudson, and Blake Medical Center in Manatee County.
The moves Friday by Tampa General Hospital, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa were expected after an administrative law judge last month approved a new state rule for determining where trauma centers could be allowed across the state.
That rule includes a scoring system that takes into account several factors in determining whether new trauma centers should be approved.
A representative for the plaintiff hospitals declined to comment on the move when reached Monday.
The three hospitals waged long-running fights against the Husdon and Manatee County trauma centers, which the Florida Department of Health allowed to open in 2011.
But after the new rule was approved in June by Administrative Law Judge R. Bruce McKibben, attorneys said it likely would be difficult for the Tampa Bay-area hospitals to win the legal challenges.
UF Health Shands in Gainesville also had challenged a new trauma center at Ocala Regional Medical Center. UF Health Shands already dropped its case after the McKibben ruling.
Parts of the hospital industry have been embroiled in legal battles for about three years about the trauma-center approval process.
Those battles have focused heavily on Department of Health decisions to allow trauma centers to open at Ocala Regional, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point and Blake Medical Center. All are affiliated with the HCA health-care chain.
Judges found that an earlier rule used to approve those trauma centers was invalid. But the Department of Health wrote the new rule that McKibben approved.
Trauma centers have the specialized staff and equipment to treat severely injured patients. But older, established health care concerns haven’t wanted to compete with newer providers.
The legal battle was as much about the business of health care; trauma doctors and staff need a certain volume of patients, up to 1,000 yearly, to keep up their expertise and pay the bills.
A report by the American College of Surgeons on Florida’s trauma system said “existing trauma centers have a clear financial incentive to keep new hospitals out of the pool.”
The hospitals that operate older trauma centers say having more centers dilutes the pool of patients and also causes a strain on available medical specialists.
The newer centers, at hospitals affiliated with HCA, responded that the increase in Florida’s residents and visitors justifies the need.