Health Care

Jackson doubles down on effort to win state approval for trauma center

El Nuevo Herald

Miami-Dade’s public hospital system refuses to take ‘No’ for an answer to its application to open a trauma center at Jackson South Community Hospital in Palmetto Bay.

Instead, trustees for Jackson Health System have doubled down on their efforts: voting on Monday to spend $1.8 million in public funds to recommission two operating rooms at Jackson South in anticipation of a trauma center, and authorizing the hospital to hire an independent attorney to fight the Florida Department of Health’s application denial earlier this year.

Joe Arriola, chairman of the Public Health Trust that governs Jackson, said the county attorney’s office has been leading legal efforts to appeal the state’s decision since May. But the stakes are high enough that Jackson wants more legal firepower.

“We feel very strongly that we need to go with all barrels,” he said.

Arriola estimated that an independent attorney could cost as much as $500,000. “But we have millions and millions at stake,” he said.

About $1 million will be spent for medical equipment, fixtures in two operating rooms at Jackson South Community Hospital.

The trauma center is an important part of expansion plans for Jackson South, which has seen increasing numbers of patients this year. Jackson trustees plan to spend at least $13 million to renovate the hospital, funded primarily through an $830 million debt bond payable through a property tax increase and approved by Miami-Dade voters in 2013.

Jackson’s appeal is awaiting a ruling from the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings. Administrators for the hospital system expect a decision in November or December.

In denying Jackson’s trauma center application in May, the state cited a number of deficiencies, including the lack of an adequately staffed operating room immediately available to trauma patients 24 hours a day.

Florida instead awarded a trauma center to Aventura Hospital and Medical Center, which is owned by Hospital Corporation of America. HCA also owns Kendall Regional Medical Center, which received state authorization to open a trauma center in 2011.

As red light cameras have proliferated, the amount of money sent to the state’s 27 trauma centers has spiked — from $5.1 million in 2011 to more than $12.6 million in 2012.

Jackson operates Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial, the only facility in Miami-Dade with a staff of medical specialists on site around the clock. Ryder also staffs teams of emergency nurses, physicians, anesthesiologists and others who tend only to trauma cases.

“We’re the best,” Arriola said. “It’s incredible that a hospital like ours, with incredible expertise ... could get disqualified.”

In other business, William “Bill” Heffernan, a Miami Shores resident and former chief executive of Total Bank, joined the Public Health Trust for his first meeting on Monday following his appointment by Miami-Dade commissioners on Oct. 20. Heffernan’s term runs through May 2016.

Daniel Chang: 305-376-2012, @dchangmiami