Source: Courier Post
Virtua declared victory Tuesday in its fight against a law that would have stripped the health system of its EMS service in Camden City.
A court ruling found the measure was unconstitutional “special legislation,” Virtua said in a statement. The act, which sped through the legislative process over the summer, would have awarded advanced life support (ALS) service in the city to Camden-based Cooper University Hospital.
“We are pleased that the court agreed with us,” said Virtua President and CEO Richard P. Miller.
He said Virtua expects to continue providing EMS services “for the people in the City of Camden and the 76 other municipalities we serve in Camden and Burlington counties.”
But Cooper described the adverse ruling as “just another step in a process.” It predicted an appellate court would “quickly review” Tuesday’s decision “and support the Legislature’s overwhelming vote in June.”
Cooper said “time is of the essence” because Camden risks losing its basic life support system on Jan. 2 “unless action is taken that will allow Cooper to provide this service.” The law also allowed University Hospital of Newark to turn over the city’s basic life support service to Cooper.
Supporters said the law, introduced by two Camden legislators and signed by Gov. Chris Christie less than a month later, was a way to link EMS systems to Level 1 trauma centers in Camden, New Brunswick and Newark. But critics said the measure showed favoritism to Cooper and other health care providers, and suggested political influence was at work.
Evesham-based Virtua and Capital Health of Trenton sued to block the law in July, shortly after it was signed by Christie and before it had taken effect. Among other changes, the law would strip Capital Health of the ALS service for populous Hamilton Township in Mercer County, giving it to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
The lawsuit argued the state constitution prohibits the Legislature “from providing benefits to certain groups without a rational basis for excluding others,” said Philip Lebowitz, a Philadelphia attorney for the two health systems. It also noted the law provided $2.5 million in tax dollars to equip an EMS system for Cooper, while Virtua’s service was run at no cost to taxpayers.
Virtua and Capital contended the focus on Level 1 centers was “more a smokescreen than a legitimate justification.”
At a State House news conference in June, Miller suggested the bill reflected “one person wanting something” — an apparent reference to Cooper Chairman George E. Norcross III, the South Jersey Democratic power broker.
In turn, Cooper has noted a report released by Camden County’s Democratic freeholders that asserts “current emergency response times in Camden fall short of the recommended standards.” Virtua, which has operated Camden’s advanced life support system for almost 40 years, denies that claim.