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Fort Walton Medical Center to proceed with trauma center application
FORT WALTON BEACH -- It could be fifty miles between life and death. That's how far some critically injured patients in Okaloosa County have to go for care at a trauma center.
The nearest are at Baptist and Sacred Heart Hospitals in Pensacola and Bay Medical Center in Panama City.
A last-minute vote in the Florida legislature cleared the way for Fort Walton Beach Medical Center to be added to that list.
Laura Hussey "Fort Walton Beach Medical Center is classified as an Acute Care Center, they can handle most emergencies. But in extreme cases , major injuries like a gunshot wound or a severe car crash, that's when a trauma center is needed"
Derek Watkins was severely injured in a car accident in 2002.
The winds of Tropical Storm Isidore prevented a medical helicopter from taking him to a trauma center in Pensacola and delayed the arrival of the specialist who could treat his injury.
Luisa Garcia "He went in there and I guess he tried or started and then came back and said I guess his heart couldn't take it or something. He went into cardiac arrest"
Dr. Tama van Decar says weather isn't the only obstacle ambulances making the fifty-mile trip can meet Highway 98 gridlock
Dr. Van Decar "The members of this community have seen it too many times. They watched people get injured and they were unable to really successfully, efficiently transport them"
Representative Matt Gaetz backed legislation that changed the population requirements for trauma centers, clearing the way for Fort Walton Beach Medical Center to apply.
He says it was one of the toughest fights of his career.
Rep. Matt Gaetz "Anytime we talk about health care, we are talking about the dollars associated with health care and any representation otherwise is simply naive"
Luisa Garcia believes a trauma center in Fort Walton Beach would have given her son a chance to survive.
Luisa Garcia "I honestly think all the time. What if? He would still be here. That's all I can really do is just think about what if"
Laura Hussey "Fort Walton Beach Medical Center is now finalizing their plan to proceed with a trauma center application."
The chair of the Florida Committee on Trauma is concerned about having too many trauma centers.
Dr. Karanbir Gill heads the Sacred Heart Trauma Center in Pensacola.
He said in a statement. The centers must "maintain certain minimum patient volumes to remain financially feasible and to keep specialized surgeons' skills sharp."
He believes changing the rules to allow more trauma centers "will dilute the quality of trauma care statewide and increase healthcare costs for Floridians."