TALLAHASSEE -- Miami Children’s Hospital would be able to go around state regulations and build a maternity ward to serve women with high-risk pregnancies under a measure approved by a House committee on Thursday.
The House Health and Human Services Committee added the provision to HB 1159 despite objections from other area hospitals who warned that the hospital will not be properly equipped to deal with the special needs of mothers involved in high risk births.
In February, Miami Children’s Hospital filed a letter of intent indicating it would begin the process of asking for state approval to build a 10-bed maternity wing to treat mothers in high risk births. The process, known as a certificate of need, can take months. To accelerate the process, the hospital also asked lawmakers to circumvent the regulatory process and pass a law giving them authority to go ahead with the project.
Hospital officials said the maternity beds are needed when a mother’s pre-natal tests show that a baby will need treatment for cardiovascular or digestive abnormalities. Rather than risk the complications that can result from a baby having to be transported to Miami Children’s after birth, supporters said the hospital should have the option of providing care to both the mother and baby.
“We will match every standard which is designed to keep the mother safe,’’ said M. Narendra Kini, CEO of Miami Children’s.
Opponents countered, however, that the program could endanger mothers in critical condition who need more comprehensive care than the hospital can provide.
“This is a bad and dangerous idea,’’ said Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.
Phyllis Oeters, vice president of government relations at Baptist Health South Florida in Miami, said that hospitals need specialists to deal with complicated cases and the current system serves both children and mothers well.
“No babies have died in transport over two decades to Miami Children’s,’’ she said. “No babies have died in ambulances.”
Dr. Anthony Rossi, a professor of pediatrics at Florida International University School of Medicine and director of cardiac intensive care at Miami Children’s, said he has recently treated a child who will be disabled for life because it took three hours to get the child transported the children’s hospital.
“I want our families to have a choice and I want to give these babies a chance,’’ Rossi said. “I have tunnel vision…but when I see a baby like that and I know the outcome could be very, very different, it’s time to make some changes.”
Marcos Lapciuc, chairman of the Public Health Trust which oversees Jackson Health System, said the public hospital is best equipped to treat adult medical emergencies that may arise during delivery.
“If something were to happen to the mother, Jackson is the place where they would take her,’’ he said. “From a public safety issue, it feels like that’s a service that should remain at Jackson. We have the surgeons, a trauma unit … all under the same roof.’’
Carlos Migoya, chief executive of Jackson Health System, said the hospital’s partnership with the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine has helped Jackson build one of the nation’s largest neonatal intensive care units and a fetal surgery program staffed by physicians with expertise in treating high-risk mothers.
“A children’s hospital doesn’t necessarily have all the equipment available,’’ he said. “The only place in Miami-Dade County today that can have this is Jackson.’’
Lapciuc estimated that a competing obstetrics unit at Miami Children’s Hospital could potentially cause the financially-struggling Jackson to lose $30 million to $40 million a year in revenues.
Migoya declined to put a number on the potential financial impact to the hospital from a competing obstetrics unit. But he said the effect would be “very negative.’’
The amendment, which was a bill originally sponsored by Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, was attached to a bill to allow The Villages, a retirement community in Central Florida, to circumvent the certificate of need process to build a nursing home. It will next be voted on by the full House. A similar measure in the Senate has been stalled in committee.
Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, tried and failed to gut the bill and propose a study. He said legislators were caving to the influence of The Village’s owner, Gary Morse, who is a heavy contributor to Republican political campaigns.
“This is all about money,’’ Fasano said. “It’s not about policy.”
Tampa Bay Times reporter Tia Mitchell contributed to this report. Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald and @MaryEllenKlas