Two Camden Hospitals Stake Claim to Providing Paramedic Services

Source: NJ Spotlight
Two hospitals serving Camden are at odds over a proposal to give facilities designated as Level 1 trauma centers control over local paramedic services.
New Jersey’s ambulance system is currently divided into ALS, which includes paramedics, and BLS basic life support, which doesn’t. Municipalities select BLS providers individually, while the state Department of Health determines ALS providers on a countywide or regional basis. Cooper University Health Care could potentially gain control over ALS, since the state’s two other Level 1 trauma centers already operate the local paramedic services. But it would wrench away these services from Virtua, the health system that’s provided ALS coverage in Camden for 38 years.
Virtua Assistant Vice President Scott Kasper said city residents benefit from the fact that Virtua provides paramedic services throughout Camden County. He said passage of the legislation would fragment services, add to healthcare costs, and duplicate existing services. “Operationally and clinically, there is no rational reason” for the bill…Virtua has been providing high-quality ALS service for both Camden and Burlington counties for nearly 40 years, he noted.

Cooper has become a powerful force in southern New Jersey healthcare, in part because hospital Chairman George Norcross is a major powerbroker in the region. Norcross, who’s also chairman of insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew, led the effort to build Rowan University’s Cooper Medical School.

As the largest hospital in the city, Cooper could potentially integrate paramedics into the other services it provides — for example, they could follow-up with patients that they treated. The hospital already employs some paramedics to staff its helicopter, but would need to hire more if it took over citywide services.
While Camden would be most affected by the bill, it could also affect paramedic services in Hamilton in Mercer County. That’s because the measure would require state health officials to conduct an “expedited” review if a hospital that’s part of a system that includes a Level 1 trauma center applies this year to operate paramedic services in its municipality.
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Hamilton could apply to operate paramedic services in the municipality, since it’s part of the same hospital system as the New Brunswick Level 1 trauma center. Like Virtua in Camden County, Capital Health System and its predecessors have provided paramedic services throughout Mercer County for decades.
Capital Health opposes the proposed legislation, says Vice President Dennis Dooley. Losing Hamilton would have a ripple effect, since the privately insured patients in that township and other suburbs help subsidize the paramedic services that Capital Health provides in Trenton, which has a larger population of uninsured patients and Medicaid recipients. Without those patients from Hamilton, the paramedic system would operate at a loss for the hospital.

“At the end of the day, any institution has to be able to sustain itself economically,” Dooley said. “We’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist.”

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