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Clay County hospital intervenes in trauma dispute

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ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Seeking to open a trauma center, Orange Park Medical Center has intervened in a legal dispute about a proposed Florida Department of Health rule that would determine how many trauma centers are allowed in various regions of the state.

Administrative Law Judge Darren Schwartz approved the Clay County hospital's motion last week to intervene in a case that challenges the proposed rule.

Orange Park Medical Center, which is part of the HCA health-care chain, supports the Department of Health's position.

Broward County, UF Health Jacksonville and the Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County, which operates the Jackson Health System, filed challenges to the proposed rule, contending in part that the Department of Health has overstepped its legal authority.

The new rule would determine how many trauma centers are allowed in 19 different areas of the state, a controversial issue in the hospital industry in recent years.

UF Health Jacksonville operates the only trauma center in a five-county Northeast Florida region that includes Clay County.

If the proposed rule moves forward, it would allow another trauma center in the region.

In the petition to intervene last week, Orange Park Medical Center said it submitted what is known as a "trauma center letter of intent" to the Department of Health in September and plans to file an application to operate a trauma center.

"OPMC (Orange Park Medical Center) is obligated and committed to serve the health care needs of persons within its service area, and to continually work to enhance those services to ensure delivery of the highest quality health care,'' the motion to intervene said. "OPMC's proposed trauma center is needed by the residents and visitors of its large health care service area."

In its rule challenge, UF Health Jacksonville focused on details of the department's proposal and did not mention Orange Park Medical Center's bid for a trauma center. But UF Health Jacksonville alluded to the potential impact of another trauma center in the region.

"UF Health Jacksonville will be substantially affected by the proposed rule amendments,'' the document said. "If adopted, the rule amendments would allow for the approval of an additional trauma center in TSA 5 (the Northeast region), which will dilute the number and types of trauma cases referred to UF Health Jacksonville."

Schwartz is scheduled to start a hearing April 18 on the challenges, which have been consolidated in one case.