Natividad Medical Center designated as county’s first trauma center

  • January 6, 2015

by Sara Rubin | Monterey County Weekly

Dr. Gary Gray

Natividad Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Gray announces the
hospital’s designation as a trauma center.
Photo: Nic Coury

SALINAS, CA – January 6, 2015 – Hope that you’ll never need to know this, but now you do: If you suffer a trauma injury—like a life-threatening fall, car crash or gunshot—paramedics will bring you the region’s nearest trauma center.

As of Jan. 5, that trauma center is Natividad Medical Center in Salinas.

The official designation came after months of training, hiring for 70 new positions and expanding services to include imaging and radiology.

"This is really a great day for Natividad and the county," Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Gray told members of the medical staff and the press at a Jan. 5 press conference.

The process of selecting and designating a local trauma center has been a years-long process. “A local trauma center is long overdue,” the 2010 Monterey County Grand Jury reported.

Nearly 400 patients, most of them suffering injuries from car accidents and many from gunshot wounds, have historically been flown out of the county by helicopter to Silicon Valley or the Bay Area to receive trauma care. 

Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and Natividad both responded to the county’s request for qualifications, and were vetted for trauma readiness by an outside panel of experts. Natividad scored higher, and the county Board of Supervisors chose Natividad in January, 2014.

The hospital spent the next year hiring, training and prepping to become a trauma center. In the process, they’ve already treated close to 200 trauma victims.

The next step is to pursue third-party verification from the American College of Surgeons, which Gray expects within a year and a half.

The total cost of becoming a trauma center, including salaries for new full-time employees and contract employees, is about $12 million, Gray says. (A 2011 projection showed an anticipated $20 million expense.)

Treating trauma patients is expected to bring in more than enough revenue to pay for the cost of services, becoming a profit center. But a local trauma center should also save patients money, avoiding costly ambulance or helicopter bills, sometimes on the order of $30,000.

Dr. Craig Walls, director of Natividad’s emergency department, says the trauma center designation is good news for non-trauma patients also.

Under the old model, ER docs would drop other tasks to help stabilize trauma patients and get them ready for helicopter flights to San Jose. With trauma staff on the team, medical and pediatric experts can continue working with heart attack or anaphylactic shock patients without pause.

"It has a tremendous impact on my day to day," Walls says.