ems response

Virtua CEO Responds to EMS Editorial in Local Newspaper

Indeed, what’s the emergency?
By Richard P. Miller
Virtua President & CEO
Burlington County Times (7/16/15)

A recent Burlington County Times editorial, “Virtua loses, patients win,” sadly missed the point about legislation that would allow Cooper University Hospital to take over Virtua’s Emergency Medical Services program in Camden. As the Newark Star Ledger astutely noted in its June 25 editorial, “This end run around the state’s licensing process could create mischief on health policy more broadly ... If the Legislature micro-manages these things in Camden, then why not in Bergen?”

The editorial went on to ask, “How can the Legislature make this call without fully vetting the costs and benefits? They are responding to a directive from the back room. You can almost smell the cigar smoke.”

The editorial refers to a deal rushed through in less than a month to carve out the city of Camden from the region’s EMS system and deliver it to Cooper hospital. This contradicts long-established state law and circumvents New Jersey Department of Health regulations that require a prospective new paramedic provider to submit a comprehensive application that would be subject to public hearings, a thorough review by NJDOH staff, and ultimately, a decision by the NJDOH commissioner. This usually takes six months to a year, the process by which the state awarded Virtua the right to provide paramedic services for all municipalities in Camden and Burlington counties 38 years ago.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer on the same day, the editorial board noted that, “lawmakers contrived to add a $2.5 million appropriation to the budget to help Cooper take over emergency services — that is, to cover a cost that lawmakers themselves are inventing. No such subsidy has been provided to Virtua Health System.”

The Inquirer went on to quote Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph Vitale, D-19th of Woodbridge, that “it’s not just that the legislation is ‘bad policy’ but that it would require ‘spending millions of dollars to recreate the wheel that already exists’.”

In the 2 1/2 weeks from the time that state Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson introduced this bill until the Legislature was set to vote upon it, no one questioned the performance of Virtua’s paramedics in Camden or in any other areas they serve. Why, then, at the last minute — hours before the Senate and Assembly were scheduled to vote on the bill — did Cooper operatives charge that Virtua’s response time was lacking? In fact, Virtua not only meets the standards established by the NJDOH EMS Blue Ribbon Panel but also exceeds them in Camden. That means that Virtua paramedics provide even faster response times for Camden residents than the recommended standard. Here’s a further indication of Virtua’s quality paramedic services: They are the only paramedic provider in the state that NJDOH has approved to administer medications to assist with intubation in the field without a physician’s order, reflecting their skill and expertise.

The BCT editorial also went on to say that “Virtua’s investment in Camden is minimal.” In fact, when Virtua closed its inpatient facility in Camden 15 years ago because its hospital beds were no longer needed, we transformed our Camden campus into a much needed health services site, including a 24/7 emergency department that gets almost 34,000 visits a year, taking a significant burden off other hospitals in Camden. We also record over 24,000 pediatric behavioral health visits, 15,000 primary care visits, and over 5,000 dental visits at our Camden campus annually. These services are significant in supporting the health and well-being of the residents of Camden, and they help avoid costly and unnecessary hospitalizations. Virtua has invested millions of dollars in capital expenditures on our Camden campus. Additionally, Virtua provides millions of dollars for community benefit programs, much of which is devoted to Camden.

To the detractors of our commitment to Camden, we challenge them to come and visit our campus to see the impact we are having on its citizens — on our campus and in the field with our paramedic program.

The role of the press is to investigate the facts and to provide the truth to the public. We believe the BCT, a long-respected newspaper, has missed the boat this time and needs to hear all facts before declaring who wins and who pays the price.