SUISUN CITY -- Kaiser Permanente's Vacaville Medical Center on Thursday was awarded level 2 trauma designation, beating out Fairfield-based NorthBay Healthcare, after the Solano County Emergency Medical Services Board accepted a recommendation from the American College of Surgeons.

"We're very honored that we've been entrusted to be the level 2 trauma center for Solano County," said Max Villalobos, area manager for Kaiser Permanente's Solano-Napa region.

Until recently, Solano County had no trauma center, meaning seriously injured patients had to be sent out of county, often to Sacramento or Contra Costa County. Both Kaiser and NorthBay Healthcare filed for and received level 3 designation in 2011. A county must have roughly 400,000 residents to support a level 2 trauma center and cannot have more than one, unless a specific exception is granted. 

The American College of Surgeons made the recommendation to the seven-member Solano Emergency Medical Services Cooperative, which could have rejected it but opted to uphold the recommendation, said Ted Selby, emergency medical services administrator for Solano County. Two members of the board -- one from Kaiser and one from NorthBay -- recused themselves from voting. The five remaining members voted unanimously in favor of Kaiser, according to Mr. Selby.

With the designation, Kaiser's 64-bed Vacaville hospital, constructed in 2009,  will preliminarily serve as the main trauma center, which in turn will lessen the need to send seriously injured patients out of county, said Mr. Villalobos, who similarly helped Kaiser in Sacramento ramp up from level 3 to level 2 trauma.  Typically, seriously hurt Solano County patients were sent to either UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento or John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.

Now that Kaiser has earned the designation, the hospital will work to finalize contracts and notify emergency responders, from EMTs to fire departments and police departments. Contract negotiations are expected to be completed by mid November, and preliminary designation would take effect Nov. 20. 

The American College of Surgeons will then track Kaiser's progress as it ramps up its emergency services, and a full, permanent designation would take hold on July 1, 2015.

"In order to be verified by ACS, a center has to have been performing at the level and have the date to back it up, and that takes a while," Mr. Selby said.

In a statement, Garry Passama,president and CEO of NorthBay Healthcare, said the health system was "disappointed" with the final decision.

"While we are disappointed in their conclusions, we respect the process," he said. "We still believe we are the better choice because of our experience as Solano County’s busiest trauma center, and our more complete array of service lines, including obstetrics and cardiovascular care. Our track record of overwhelmingly positive patient outcomes speaks for itself."

NorthBay could appeal the decision and would have to do so by Oct. 21, but spokesman Steve Huddleston said the health system does not intend on appealing.

"We respect the process and feel it was fair. We move ahead," he told the Business Journal.  He added that the decision "will not result in loss of business for us. It simply means we won't gain new patients that now go to [UC Davis] or John Muir," not existing NorthBay Healthcare patients from NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield or VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville.

The decision does not effect NorthBay's ability to serve as a level 3 trauma center, and the American College of Surgeons' report encourages it continue in that role.

In its report, an independent review panel from the American College of Surgeons had high praise for both facilities, but "a clear winner emerged," despite close scoring on a number of metrics.

Initial estimates for Kaiser's level 2 trauma center were around 300 patients per year, but Mr. Villalobos said after serving as a level 3 center for about a year, that number is expected to increase to around 500 trauma cases per year.

The American College of Surgeons visited each facility for a full day and used a number of criteria from the Health Resources and Services Administration document entitled "Model Trauma System Planning and Evaluation." The document contains 113 indicators that measure "both the maturity of the trauma system as well as the integration of the trauma centers within the system."  The measures were subdivided into six different appendices and then tallied up into final scores.

Mr. Huddelston said physicians and administrators are currently evaluating the American College of Surgeon's report and will look to identify where it could have scored better.

"This whole tool will give us an opportunity to do some self-evaluation and see where we can get stronger," he said.