FAIRFIELD — Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center. NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield.
Both are in the running for Solano County’s only level II trauma center. Both are engaged in a last-minute push to make their respective cases to the community – even though the decision rests with a designated county board.
A recommendation by the American College of Surgeons will be announced when the Solano County Emergency Medical Services board of directors meets at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Suisun City Council chambers, 701 Civic Center Drive.
Existence of a sealed envelope containing the name of either NorthBay Medical Center or Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center as Solano County’s recommended level II trauma center was discussed Sept. 10 at the Solano County Board of Supervisors meeting. That hasn’t stopped a community campaign in the intervening weeks to impress members of the Emergency Medical Services board of directors.
For Kaiser Permanente, it’s an all-out blitz of community outreach and advertising, combined with the belief that Kaiser’s vast resources in the region will carry the day. For NorthBay, it’s a more subtle approach, one based on the belief that the Fairfield hospital is best-suited to the serve the entire county as its level II trauma center, an approach that relies more on the evaluation process and less on the ability to sway the hearts and minds of those outside the medical community.
The campaign continued Monday with an announcement by Kaiser Permanente that all seven Solano County mayors have signed on in support of the Vacaville facility as the preferred site of the level II trauma center.
A press release from Kaiser included a prepared quote from Fairfield Mayor Harry Price and an acknowledgement from Kaiser’s chief local administrator. Price on Tuesday said his endorsement is based on his and his family’s 48 years as Kaiser Permanente members, experience that includes a series of serious health care issues that were handled to Price’s satisfaction.
“We are proud of the significant role we play in maintaining and improving the health and well-being of our community, and appreciate the numerous endorsements we have received – not only from the thousands of residents in this county but also from the leaders of the seven cities that make up this unique community,” said Max Villalobos, senior vice president and CEO for the Kaiser Permanente Solano and Napa service area, in a prepared release.
The Kaiser announcement drew a swift response from NorthBay officials.
“We have approached providing trauma care as a medical necessity – not a political popularity contest,” said Steve Huddleston, NorthBay’s vice president of public affairs. “Of course, the other applicant for the level II designation may believe its best chance is in the political, not the medical, arena. So it’s not surprising that politicians have been recruited by their PR machine.”
“We’ve put our time and resources into creating not only the first trauma center, but the better trauma program,” Huddleston said. “We believe the medical experts – the ones whose opinion and endorsement should really count – will see the difference. We trust they will judge us the better provider of trauma care.”
“Fortunately, mayors are not elected to decide our health care,” he said.
Price on Tuesday said that’s how it should be. He said he does not think his views will sway the decision makers.
“Let the experts take care of it,” he said. “My comments would not affect any of those folks, either. I think their ethical standards are way beyond compromising.”
Villalobos, in an email to community leaders, touted Kaiser Permanente’s neurosurgery capabilities at the Vacaville hospital, the new helipad at the facility, and its proximate distance from the region’s current level II trauma centers at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek to the west and Kaiser’s South Sacramento facility to the east.
Gary Passama, president and CEO of NorthBay Healthcare, countered in an essay on the company’s website. He said a study showed that NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield is better situated for countywide response in that 96 percent of ambulances can reach the Fairfield hospital in 25 minutes or less, while 60 percent can reach Kaiser’s Vacaville facility within that time frame.
Price said he has the greatest respect for the people at NorthBay Healthcare and all that they have accomplished over the years, and that no slight is intended by his endorsement of the Kaiser Permanente bid for the level II trauma center.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have both facilities here,” he said.
Both hospital executives remained upbeat Monday about their applications.
“We’re confident that when the Independent Review Panel appointed by the American College of Surgeons presents their scoring of the two competing facilities on Thursday, we’ll come out ahead, based on clinical superiority, experience and unmatched resources to open and grow the program,” Villalobos said in his community message.
“We trust the process will lead to the right choice,” Passama said on the NorthBay website. “Regardless of which way the decision goes, we will continue to operate NorthBay Trauma Center, and, because of its location, we will continue to treat more patients.”
Once the recommendation is known, it’s up to the county Emergency Medical Services board of directors to make a decision. The board can accept the recommendation, choose the other facility – or do nothing.
The designation is important to both medical service providers because Solano County can have only one level II trauma center. It has a population of 413,000. The state allows only one level II center per 350,000 people in a county.
That threshold exists because the number of neurological cases that occur has to be enough that the surgeons providing the care can maintain their skills, county Health Officer Bela Matyas has said.
Both Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center and NorthBay Healthcare are now designated as level III trauma centers.
Price predicted Tuesday that whatever the decision, the two health care organizations “will come together cooperatively, as they have in the past” to meet the health care needs of the region.
Reach Glen Faison at 427-6925 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.
This version updates the original to include Mayor Harry Price’s comments Tuesday.