Tenet Healthcare Corp. is seeking an injunction against a law signed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush last week that exempts a handful of rival hospitals from undergoing the certificate-of-need process in their attempts to create open-heart surgery units.
The Santa Barbara, Calif.-based chain-which has been the subject of numerous federal investigations-filed suit last week in Leon County Circuit Court on behalf of Delray Medical Center, a Tenet hospital that operates an open-heart unit in Delray Beach. Tenet charges that the new law is unconstitutional because the competing hospitals did not have to go through a standard CON process, a time-consuming exercise that Florida hospitals have criticized when attempting to expand or build new facilities.
"We feel strongly that it is bad public policy," said Pat McCarthy, spokeswoman at the 372-bed hospital. "This legislation seeks to benefit a handful of hospitals."
Last year, a Tenet hospital unsuccessfully challenged a similar CON exemption won by HealthSouth Corp. for its so-called digital hospital in Birmingham, Ala., which has yet to be completed (May 20, 2002, p. 6).
The new Florida law permits open-heart surgery and angioplasty procedures at Bethesda Memorial Hospital, Boynton Beach; Boca Raton Community Hospital; Indian River Memorial Hospital, Vero Beach; and Martin Memorial Medical Center, Stuart.
Martin Memorial and Bethesda Memorial are scheduled to start construction on additional surgical suites later this year. Indian River is anticipating renovating existing space to build an open-heart unit. A second phase would include building new laboratories, spokeswoman Linda Taylor said.
"Obviously we are excited about it," Taylor said. "We have tried getting open-heart surgery for a number of years."
Heart patients now must travel to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Fla., or Florida Hospital in Orlando.
Tenet's Delray Medical Center is about eight miles from Bethesda Memorial and Boca Community and could lose market share if the two hospitals open the new units, McCarthy said. Delray performed about 700 open-heart procedures last year. If the law is upheld, McCarthy said, "Hospitals throughout the state can focus on lobbyists rather than healthcare planning experts." A judge is expected to rule on the issue this week.
Taylor's hospital already has gone through the CON process four times. Indian River won approval last fall only to be challenged in creating open-heart surgery units.