FAIRFIELD — Kaiser Permanente’s Vacaville hospital will be Solano County’s first and only Level II trauma center.
It will become the county hospital that serves people who suffer serious head and spinal injuries from accidents and acts of violence. These victims are presently flown by helicopter to hospitals in other counties.
A review panel of medical experts recommended Thursday that Kaiser Permanente get the nod over NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield. The panel’s eight members used a scoring system to rate each hospital on dozens of indicators. Kaiser totaled 5,792 points and NorthBay totaled 5,539 points.
“Both facilities should be proud,” said Nels Sanddal of the American College of Surgeons, which aided with the review effort. “Both facilities are doing an exceptional job and under different circumstances could both be Level II.”
But all eight review panel members gave Kaiser Permanente the highest total. The Solano Emergency Medical Services Cooperative board of directors on Thursday accepted the recommendation and awarded the Kaiser Permanente hospital the Level II status by a 5-0 vote.
Voting for Kaiser Permanente were Solano County Administrator Birgitta Corsello, Suisun City Fire Chief Mike O’Brien, Travis Harris of Sutter Solano Medical Center, Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn and consumer representative Richard Watson.
“The reason I’m going with the experts – I’m not an expert. I’m not a professional. They are,” Watson said.
Employees with both Kaiser and NorthBay packed the Solano Emergency Medical Services Cooperative board meeting in the Suisun City Council Chamber and spilled out into the lobby.
“It’s not easy to stand in a room where you know half the people are going to be happy and half of the people are going to be disappointed,” Sanddal said as he began his presentation.
No one in the room but Sanddal at that point knew the results of the independent review panel’s scoring. He put the scores from the two hospitals in various broad categories on a screen, but not the names. Finally, he put up the names and it was clear Kaiser Permanente had won. Neither cheers nor groans could be heard – the handshaking, hugging and congratulations came after the meeting ended.
Kaiser Permanente opened its $500 million Vacaville hospital in 2009, giving it two Solano County hospitals. The other is in Vallejo.
“We are honored and humbled the county EMS and the independent review panel selected Kaiser,” said Max Villalobos, senior vice president and hospital administrator for Kaiser Napa-Solano.
The need for Level II trauma care is frequent and it’s important that victims get care as quickly as possible, Villalobos said. Such a case might happen once a week or four times in a single day. The Kaiser Level II center in south Sacramento has seen eight cases on the Fourth of July holiday, he said.
NorthBay Healthcare spokesman Steve Huddleston said Solano County has 70 to 100 Level II trauma cases annually.
Among the Solano Emergency Medical Service Cooperative’s requirements for a Level II trauma center is that it provide labor and delivery service. The Vacaville hospital has the facilities, but Kaiser has provided delivery and labor service in the county only at its Vallejo hospital.
That will change Nov. 5. Villalobos said the Vacaville and Vallejo hospitals will both have delivery and labor services.
Villalobos said he expects the Level II trauma center status at the Vacaville hospital to become official Nov. 20. But the hospital has been functioning at the Level II level since Aug. 1, with around-the-clock neurosurgical and trauma surgery capabilities, he said.
Meanwhile, NorthBay Medical Center will remain a Level III trauma center. That status will enable it to continue treating most trauma cases, except those involving serious head and spinal injuries that are to go to a Level II center.
“While we are obviously disappointed in the conclusion, we always honor the process,” said Gary Passama, chief executive officer of NorthBay Healthcare. “While we still suspect we are the best choice, we’re going to live with (the board’s) decision.”
NorthBay Medical Center will continue to treat the highest number of trauma patients in the county because of its central location, he said.
“We will not close this much-needed service because so many more patients can get to us sooner for care,” Passama said. “We will remain, as we have for more than a half-century, a critical partner in emergency services.”
As part of its attempt to get the Level II trauma center status, NorthBay Medical Center in June opened its $6.2 million neurosurgery operating room. But the neurosurgery program goes beyond trauma cases. People can go there for scheduled surgeries, such as having a tumor removed.
Huddleston said NorthBay will keep its neurosurgery service, despite not getting the Level II status. It will also keep such upgrades as around-the-clock hospital coverage.
So, at the end of the trauma center competition, both hospitals have improved their service levels.
The journey of upgrading Solano County’s emergency care began in 2010. NorthBay Medical Center announced in September of that year that it would seek to open Solano County’s first Level III trauma center. NorthBay officials said the county had about 1,000 trauma cases annually and 420 of these victims got transported to hospitals in other counties.
Kaiser Permanente announced in January 2011 that it would seek Level III status for its Vacaville hospital. NorthBay Medical Center achieved Level III status in September 2011 and Kaiser Permanente’s Vacaville center did so in October 2011.
Neither hospital stopped there. They both soon announced they wanted to become a Level II trauma center. But California allows only one center per 350,000 people and Solano County has a population of about 413,000. One reason for the limit, according to state officials, is that the specialized trauma surgeons must have enough work to keep their skills sharp.
That meant Kaiser Permanente and NorthBay would compete for the Level II trauma center status.
“Eventually, I hope we have a Level I,” Watson said after the board had made its decision.
A Level I center must have a medical research component. Solano County has one medical school, at Touro University on Mare Island in Vallejo. No local hospital has yet publicly talked about linking trauma care and medical research to make a bid for Level I status.
“I think it can be done,” Watson said. “And I really think before too long, we’re going to have two Level II’s in the area.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.