ORANGE PARK, Fla. – One day after the state ordered Orange Park Medical Center to stop operating as a trauma center, hospital and community leaders are firing back.
The Florida Department of Health held a workshop Friday to develop new rules on how to position trauma centers around the state. But Clay County leaders were loud and clear about what losing the trauma center will mean for their community.
They let it be known they are not happy their residents have to go to Shands Jacksonville Medical Center now if they have a traumatic injury.
Orange Park Medical Center officials spoke out, too. They said they were working with the DOH on the issues, so they were caught off guard by the decision.
Now they're planning to fight it.
The meeting wasn't supposed to be about Orange Park Medical Center losing its trauma center status. It was about developing new rules for appropriating trauma centers after a judge threw the old ones out last year.
But one by one, county leaders sat before the DOH panel, explaining how they already feel the effects of the change.
"We had a traffic accident at Wells (Road) and Blanding (Boulevard) ... happens there all the time," Clay County Fire Chief Lorin Mock said. "The previous day that trauma victim would have gone to Orange Park Medical Center. That was in the area that they provide response to normally. They would have done the transport, dropped off the victim and immediately went back in service."
Mock said now that ambulances have to bypass Orange Park Medical Center and head to Shands Jacksonville, they have to account for ambulances being out of service for about two hours instead of about 30 minutes.
The changes are because the DOH determined the hospital didn't meet requirements to be a trauma center after an in-depth review. However, it still has an emergency room.
Orange Park Medical Center CEO Tom Pentz said the move caught him and his staff by surprise, and they still don't know exactly what they did wrong.
"Every deficiency, we either responded that the deficiency should have never occurred, or if the deficiency were valid, we have gone back and corrected it," Pentz said. "And so to get a letter back saying stop being a trauma center without an explanation other than you do not meet the standards, to me is inappropriate."
Pentz said the hospital is filing an appeal and will then have a hearing before an administrative law judge.
"We feel like this is more about paper than about patients," said Steve Ecenia, the hospital's attorney. "They may have issues with certain processes or the way we've put together protocols. We think we should have an opportunity to correct those and continue to provide the care."
The DOH wouldn't make any comment on Orange Park Medical Center's status, but Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong said he understands why people may want another trauma center nearby.
"We share that concern, and we are working with stakeholders across the trauma community and with people across counties in Florida to come up with an improvement in how it is we determine on where trauma centers are best positioned in the state to meet those needs," Armstrong said.
Shands will be the only trauma center in this area for a while. Until the new rules are approved, the DOH will not be accepting any new trauma center applications. Armstrong did not give a specific timeline on how long that might take, but said his office is working as quickly as it can but wants to make sure everyone's voices are heard.