Natividad, county officials take trauma center victory lap

  • January 6, 2015

 By Jim Johnson, Monterey Herald

Dr. Alex Di Stante, center left, trauma surgeon and director of Natividad Medical Center’s new trauma center, shakes hands with Dr. Craig Walls, director of the hospital’s emergency room, at the end of a press conference announcing the unit’s formal designation as the area’s first Level II trauma center in Salinas on Monday January 5, 2015. David Royal – Monterey Herald


Salinas, CA – January 6, 2015 – Natividad Medical Center and Monterey County officials and staff celebrated the county-owned hospital’s formal designation as the area’s first Level II trauma center on Monday, the official first day of the highly prized distinction.

At an event to mark the occasion at the hospital, Natividad’s interim CEO Dr. Kelly O’Keefe noted the historical nature of the achievement, which designates the venerable institution as the preferred destination for the most seriously injured patients from the county. Those patients would have previously been flown out of the area for treatment at a clip of up to 300 per year, leaving them miles away from family and facing costly bills accrued from the flight alone.

“As an acute care hospital, for the past 128 years we have made an organizational commitment to the people of our community to provide safe, effective, accessible and quality health care,” O’Keefe said. “This is a great day for the people of Monterey County.”

The formal nod, finalized after a Dec. 5 review by a team of trauma care experts from Los Angeles, followed a 2 1/2-year effort by Natividad as part of a four-year county Emergency Medical Services Agency-led process to designate a local hospital as a trauma center.

The county hospital has been operating as a trauma center since early October, treating more than 200 patients meeting trauma criteria.

County health director Ray Bullick noted the trauma center designation effort was finally prompted by a 2010 grand jury report urging a local trauma center, and lauded what he called a “smooth” designation process bolstered by support from the hospital’s staff and labor organizations. Bullick argued the trauma center would not only make it easier for patients and their families, but also boost the local economy by up to $50,000 per patient.

Natividad Medical Center trauma nurse Amy Montgomery and other staff members applaud as officials announce the hospital’s formal designation as the area’s first Level II trauma center in Salinas on Monday. David Royal – Monterey Herald

Natividad’s chief medical officer Dr. Gary Gray praised the contributions from the hospital’s entire staff, ticking off the list of accomplishments needed to prepare for the designation including the hiring of a “top-notch trauma team” led by Dr. Alex Di Stante, the trauma program director.

Di Stante, a trauma care veteran from Irvine, related how shocked he was to find out there was no trauma center between San Jose and Santa Barbara when he arrived in 2006, and how he began asking how a local hospital could earn the designation.

Natividad beat out Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital in late 2013 for the right to pursue the designation after an extensive review process, triggering some criticism from the latter hospital and its supporters which has largely quieted in recent months.

Supervisor Lou Calcagno acknowledged none of the five county supervisors expected Natividad to be chosen over Salinas Valley Memorial. He credited the leadership of former CEO Harry Weis, along with O’Keefe and the hospital board of trustees for righting Natividad’s financial ship so it could pursue the trauma center designation. Calcagno also lauded the late Supervisor Sam Karas for his advocacy in building a new Natividad hospital building, another key to allowing the hospital to go after the trauma center nod.

Natividad trustee Fernando Elizondo called the local trauma center designation “certainly a momentous era for the communities of Monterey County,” and praised the county’s vetting process while acknowledging there was “some politics” involved.

Salinas Valley agri-businessman John D’Arrigo capped off the event by saying Natividad is “where the trauma center belongs,” and pledged to help raise money for specialized trauma care equipment for the hospital through the Ag Leadership Council.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 726-4348.