County chooses Natividad as trauma center

  • January 28, 2014

Sara Rubin

Monterey County Weekly

January 28, 2014 – Disregard the blood and guts and shock that come with traumatic injuries, and for a moment, Natividad Medical Center CEO Harry Weis makes it sound like running a trauma center is kind of like a party. 

"[The trauma center] is truly the biggest event in health care in Monterey County since each of the hospitals was built," Weis told the County Board of Supervisors Tuesday in a final pitch to get them to approve the public safety-net hospital as the place that will treat the most critically injured patients in danger of bleeding out. Natividad had been viewed as the underdog in a contest with Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, each hospital vying for the trauma center designation. 

An independent review panel selected Natividad as the top choice after touring both hospitals. Today, the supervisors unanimously approved that recommendation, setting in motion some major, costly upgrades and staffing additions at Natividad to make it trauma-ready within a year. 

To get there, Weis estimates the hospital could take as much as a $9 million hit this year, but the projections for additional revenue from caring for trauma victims work out well: Natividad projects $13.6 million in annual profits. (Trauma care is expensive, but having a local trauma center  is expected to save local patients money—and precious, potentially life-saving minutes—by avoiding costly helicopter flights to trauma centers in San Jose or the Bay Area.)

"This is a risky proposition," Supervisor Simon Salinas said. "It’s not something we can just say, ‘It’s gonna be a moneymaker.’ The truth is we don’t know." 

The financials are all dependent on how many patients use the services, and what type of insurance they have. To qualify as a trauma center, Natividad will be required to have certain specialists available 24/7. 

Meanwhile, in a reversal from previous talks, officials from SVMH are asking Natividad to merge. About two years ago, SVMH began considering possible mergers and affiliations, but after the country’s largest private hospital chain, HCA, dropped its bid to acquire SVMH, Natividad was the only hospital left with an offer. SVMH declined

Today, SVMH CEO Pete Delgado and Chair Harry Wardwell asked the county supervisors to consider a merger between the hospitals. "We could obtain efficiencies of scale, and provide high-quality services," Wardwell said. 

Union reps, doctors, and officials from Natividad spoke out fiercely in opposition to SVMH, arguing the proposal came just to delay the county’s approval of Natividad as a trauma center, with SVMH trying to get in on the action.