Gary J. Passama, President and Chief Executive Officer of NorthBay Healthcare System since 1981, is a veteran of more than 40 years in Northern California health care. He has served as faculty and speaker for programs of the American Hospital Association, Hospital Council of Northern California and the Medical Group Management Association. He is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

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No Matter What

When one thinks of competition, it typically implies winners and losers. Sometimes it works out that way. Other times competition brings the best out of everyone involved, and in the end, everyone wins.

For instance, NorthBay has for more than 25 years been diligently working to bring advanced services to Solano. Our neonatal intensive care unit and Solano's first accredited cancer center were early examples. No one else was willing to provide those services locally. So we really were competing against ourselves. But both led to improved quality throughout our organization.

More recently we brought advanced cardiac care services here. NorthBay Medical Center was the first hospital (and remains the only civilian hospital) to provide heart surgery and also be a designated receiving center for patients exhibiting symptoms of a heart attack. It's also the county's only accredited Chest Pain Center.

The Fairfield hospital, centrally located in Solano, is by far the most complete hospital for patients with serious cardiac problems. Having advanced services not only increased quality outcomes throughout NorthBay Medical Center, but NorthBay VacaValley Hospital as well. Everyone won.

So now comes a competition for designation as a Level II trauma center. NorthBay worked with the county and medical leaders for many years, encouraging development of a countywide trauma plan and a program for all of Solano. It was no spur-of-the-moment thing. While offering support to outside agencies we were busy at work to develop an in-house infrastructure to ensure trauma victims got exemplary treatment. We have become better overall as a result.

Several years ago, we made known our intent to create a trauma center. Up until that time no other organization indicated a similar interest. But within weeks the health plan from Oakland, coping with an underutilized new hospital in Vacaville, decided it wanted to become part of Solano's trauma plan. Thus we have a competition for Level II trauma designation.

The health plan honchos in Oakland probably see things differently. Solano-based NorthBay Healthcare must have seemed like some weak, diminutive, local organization. Perhaps they underestimated how we could develop and provide advance medical services. We may not have the Oakland health plan's profits to spend and spread around, but we have a higher level of commitment and support from our staff.

The county decided the process to choose a Level II trauma center should be clinically based. It should not water down the national standards or the expectations of what a trauma center should be able to do. The process relies on outside expert examiners, not political manipulation. No lavish dinners or advertisements are a part of the designation process.

We are confident we will prove to be the best choice because of years of preparation, because of our experience as the busiest Level III trauma center in the region, and because NorthBay Medical Center is the most complete hospital with so many other advanced specialty care centers - from obstetrics and neonatal intensive care to top-flight cardiac care.

But if for some reason that is not the result, we will be gracious. We will continue to fill the important role we have as a Level III trauma center serving most of the county. What we will not be is truculent.

The county's trauma designation process has made us a better servant to our patients. No matter what, NorthBay will be a winner. And no matter who receives the designation, Solano residents will be winners too.