It's begun. As I predicted, the guys from Oakland are beginning their local advertising campaign to tout their trauma services. Look for them to spend more of their plan members' premium dollars on their expensive PR gambit.
What was absurd and a demonstration of how disconnected the Oakland regime is with local communities was its assertion that they have served Solano County for 65 years. Yes, it is true for Vallejo. But for most of those 65 years the Oakland folks thought Solano County ended at the Vallejo city limits.
It has been NorthBay Healthcare providing health care north and east of Vallejo during those 65 years, including serving those covered by the Oakland health plan when there was an emergency. Even today, if you have no insurance or are covered by Medi-Cal it is NorthBay that accepts a disproportionate share of that responsibility.
It is easy to thrive when you avoid obligations others assume. It is much easier to write a check to a local group for a fraction of what it would cost to open all your services to all who may need it. This is a distinction that many in the public probably do not understand. NorthBay and other providers in the region serve all and are open to all regardless of whether it's an emergency.
On Monday, NorthBay and the Oakland folks submitted proposals asking to be designated Solano's Level 2 trauma center. The county's plan provides that there be two trauma centers, but only one can be a Level 2. Currently both organizations operate Level 3 centers, which capably care for most trauma victims. And two trauma centers for a county this size is more than sufficient.
The primary difference between Level 2 and Level 3 is that Level 2 centers handle serious head injuries. Both organizations now have that ability. NorthBay has an outstanding neurosurgeon, backed up by others, who does both trauma cases and complicated elective cases. When the designation decision is made, all of the emergency neurological injuries will be sent to the Level 2 hospital.
The organization that does not receive the Level 2 designation will continue to be a Level 3 center. And neither will see much reduction in the current volume of cases it sees. That is good for the county's residents.
NorthBay Medical Center, situated best at the center of the county geographically, is Solano's most complete hospital. It is a designated STEMI receiving center for heart attack patients and the county's only accredited Chest Pain Center. That means only NorthBay Medical Center can handle complicated cardiac cases that require open-heart surgery. Trauma cases can result in patients needing such intervention.
Unlike the Oakland folks' Vacaville hospital, NorthBay Medical Center has a neonatal intensive care unity for seriously ill infants. We already have experienced trauma cases where that capability has made a life-or-death difference. We are no Henry J.-come-lately player when it comes to both obstetrical and infant emergencies. We have had those services for many years.
Handling three times the volume of trauma cases as the other trauma center, a result of our geographic location in the center of the county, NorthBay Medical Center is much more experienced in treating trauma victims. That experience, a result of more than 10 years of designing, building and providing trauma services, makes a difference.
The Oakland folks, even after 65 years in Vallejo, never once evinced an interest in trauma until NorthBay announced its intention. With our encouragement Solano County health officials were able to finish its state-mandated trauma plan to enable trauma centers to be established.
Someone in Oakland either must have been asleep or thought Fairfield and Vacaville were in Yolo County. More likely they found themselves with an incomplete, underutilized new hospital (whose opening was delayed for more than a year after construction was finished) and they needed a way to fill beds. You cannot thrive with an empty hospital.
So no doubt the advertising dollars will continue to flow. But it will be an independent panel of outside experts who will pore over the two proposals and assess which organization has the better system of trauma care. Fortunately for the citizens of Solano County, it won't be decided on who buys the most advertising in newspapers and freeway billboards, or who hosts the most VIP dinners and receptions.
Come October a decision will be made. Should it not go Oakland's way, I suspect a significant legal expense will be incurred by that health plan to appeal and protest its losing proposition.
Earlier this week I sent a "howler" - a la Harry Potter - to Kaiser Permanente because of an email message sent to their members which circumvents the process under way to designate Solano County's first Level II trauma center. NorthBay Healthcare and Kaiser both seek to earn that distinction.
In Harry's world a howler is a screeching, scolding message. The Oakland crowd deserved that one. And now another.
The process of deciding which hospital will be the sole Level II trauma center was designed, debated and adopted by the joint powers authority that oversees emergency medical services in Solano County. It fittingly decided the criteria should be clinical excellence, not public opinion or political muscle. It's now clear the folks from Oakland just don't get it.
When asked to write a PR email in support, one of its own members, who forwarded the email to us, replied, "Sorry, Kaiser, NorthBay's got this one!"
So now, posted on their website, comes misleading propaganda and some outright falsehoods as they unjustly compare NorthBay Medical Center's trauma service to Kaiser's in Vacaville.
It appears they have little or no confidence in earning the Level II trauma designation on the clinical merits of their case. Their underutilized Vacaville hospital has few specialty services, no where near the overall level of complexity and sophistication of those at NorthBay Medical Center. Ours is a much more experienced trauma center than the facility in Vacaville by a ratio of 3-to-1.
NorthBay Healthcare first started doing neurosurgery in the 1980s and continued it until the retirement of a key neurosurgeon. We recently revived the service line, bringing to Solano County an outstanding neurosurgeon who promptly got very busy. He heads a team of six other similarly distinguished neurosurgeons who back him up. We are providing second opinions for Kaiser patients looking for alternatives. Meanwhile, Kaiser continues to cite their new program as if it were the only one.
Another outright misleading statement concerns the capabilities of NorthBay Medical Center and their Vacaville hospital relative to physician support. They deserve an especially loud howler for their assertions. NorthBay Medical Center has a much more robust cadre of in-house specialists - from obstetricians to orthopedic surgeons - that is simply not matched in Kaiser's Vacaville facility.
The most obvious deception is their claim about geographic location. They erroneously assert that NorthBay Medical Center is seven minutes from Interstate 80, while their hospital is "right on I-80." Perhaps they expect an ambulance with siren blasting to halt at every stoplight on Travis Boulevard, and maybe pull over at Starbucks on the way. While theirs is just off I-80, it is true that it sits on the eastern outskirts of Vacaville, further from the population center of Solano.
Perhaps this is a cloaking device to hide a critical weakness in their proposal: Their hospital is too far from most people in Solano County who may become victims of traumatic injury. A study shows that 51 percent of Solano residents live within 15 minutes of NorthBay Medical Center, but only 38 percent live within 15 minutes of Kaiser Vacaville. But even more telling, 96 percent of Solano residents live with 25 minutes of NorthBay Medical Center, but only 60 percent live within 25 minutes of Kaiser Vacaville.
When it comes to trauma care, the travel time to definitive care makes a difference.
Beware of what you hear from the Oakland folks. Spending tens of thousands of dollars to spread untruths does not make them true.
In the Harry Potter novels the one thing you do not want to get is a "howler," a screeching animated message when you have done something you should not have done. Consider this a howler intended for the guys from Oakland (also known as Kaiser) who just do not get it when it comes to the Level II trauma center designation process in Solano County.
As I previously explained, the process that will culminate with the designation of one hospital in Solano County as the Level II trauma center is an objective process based upon clinical criteria. As it should, the decision should be based on which provider will do it best. The process was specifically designed to avoid the kind of political plotting the guys from Oakland chose as their strategy some years ago in Sacramento County.
NorthBay Healthcare is not afraid of being judged on its merit, letting the chips fall where they may. Apparently that's not so for the Oakland crowd. That is worth a howler all by itself.
Most recently they asked their Solano health plan members via email to advocate for their application. One of their members, who shared the message with us, responded: "Sorry Kaiser, NorthBay's got this one!"
The Kaiser email contained another item worthy of a howler. It referred to its Vacaville hospital as Solano's largest. Not really. It no doubt is Solano's largest underutilized hospital. In terms of breadth of services it is in fifth place behind Solano's other four civilian and military hospitals.
They appear to have just opened in a very hurried fashion a low-volume obstetrics service in order to minimally qualify for Level II consideration. NorthBay Medical Center, by comparison, has delivered thousands of babies for more than 50 years. It is equipped to care for critically ill newborns. Not so for the howler recipients.
NorthBay Medical Center is by far Solano's most complete and complex hospital.
One must wonder if there is a lack of confidence in prevailing in an objective process for the Level II trauma center designation. We, in contrast, will let the process play out. In the meantime, as Professor Dumbledore would say, 10 points deducted from the guys from Oakland.