FAIRFIELD -- NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield has received verification that it meets the national standard for being a central treatment center for seriously injured patients in Solano County, but that won't change the county's 9-month-old protocol for ambulances to send such patients to Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Vacaville, despite that facility's not yet being verified.

In a one-page letter, NorthBay Healthcare's Fairfield hospital was notified by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma that it was verified as a level 2 trauma center, following a site visit by a two-surgeon review team on May 5--6.

The Chicago-based organization makes recommendations on trauma care capabilities to local agencies -- in this case, the Solano County Emergency Medical Services board -- which designates the protocol for helicopter and road ambulances to follow in routing patients to a hospital based on injuries.

Level 2 trauma cases include rib fractures; collapsed lungs; injuries to internal organs such as the spleen, liver, kidneys, diaphragm and bowels; fractured bones; spine fractures and damage to the spinal cord; major head injuries; and severe wounds and cuts. Serious burns and major injuries to infants and children are referred to level 1 hospitals.

The competition between the two facilities has been ongoing for years. The surgeons organization in 2012 verified the NorthBay and Kaiser facilities for level 3 trauma, and the Solano EMS board designated them as such. Both medical centers then made upgrades as they pursued verification as level 2 facilities. In October, the EMS board voted Kaiser's Vacaville hospital as the county's only designated level 2 facility.

There are no plans to revisit that designation with the verification of NorthBay in Fairfield at level 2, said Jessica Tello-Evans, interim EMS administrator.

"There is something in progress with Kaiser on level 2 verification," she said.

Per county guidelines, the American College of Surgeons is set to provide final level 2 trauma center verification of Kaiser Permanente's Vacaville hospital by July 1, 2015, according to Corwin Harper, senior vice president and Napa--Solano area manager.

"Kaiser Permanente's Vacaville hospital is the official and only level 2 trauma center designated by Solano County," he said in a statement. "This is based upon the American College of Surgeons' evaluation and the county's official review of Kaiser Permanente's demonstrated excellence, expert specialists and equipment in this specialized area of medicine. Nothing about this designation has or will change as a result of NorthBay's announcement."

NorthBay Healthcare officials said the upgrades needed for level 2 trauma care were a goal in and of themselves. Adding neurosurgery was a final step toward achieving level 2 trauma care, the hospital said.

“It’s the gold standard that we have sought to reach since the beginning,” said Kathy Richerson, vice president and chief nursing officer who was part of the initial planning of the trauma program nearly a decade ago. “This is an incredible accomplishment by a highly skilled, dedicated and talented team.”

Located in the county's largest city, NorthBay's Fairfield hospital handles 60 percent of Solano's trauma cases, most of which can be handled by a level 3 facility, officials said. And some level 2 cases needing immediate treatment do come there, according to  J. Peter Zopfi, trauma medical director.

“The protocol takes into consideration that some patients need to get to the nearest trauma center because time is of the essence, he said. "And many times, a level 2 patient will arrive in a private vehicle or walk in to our emergency department. Those patients will get immediate care from us.”

NorthBay Fairfield's level 2 verification expires Nov. 18, 2018.