Hospitals unite to save regional emergency medical service

Hospital officials from Lourdes Health System and Virtua are united in opposing pending state legislation they say would undermine the regional Emergency Medical Services system.

At press, state lawmakers were set to vote on Senate Bill 2980 and Assembly Bill 4526 June 25 that would allow Cooper University Hospital to take over Emergency Medical Services for the City of Camden, including the Advanced Life Support (paramedic) service which has been provided by Virtua for 38 years.

On June 24 Lourdes and Virtua held a joint press conference at the New Jersey State House to voice strong opposition to the bill. At the press conference, the CEOs cited examples of how this legislation would undermine what they described as a well-established, high-quality regional EMS system and does not represent a movement toward a better-coordinated system.

“The fact is that the existing system established in 1977 provides a high-quality service to the residents of the City of Camden and has saved thousands of lives over the past 38 years,” said Richard P. Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer, Virtua. “Backed by the New Jersey Department of Health, our service has been lauded as a national model that works collaboratively within a regionalized system and that is being emulated in other parts of the state.

Alexander J. Hatala, President and Chief Executive Officer, Lourdes Health System, agreed.

“There is no reason to change a high-performing model that has been serving the residents of Camden with exceptional care for almost four decades,” he said. “Our institutions have a long-standing history of support and collaboration that has greatly benefited our community.

“Data drives clinical excellence and there is absolutely no data to show that a change to the current system would benefit the City of Camden’s residents,” Hatala said.

On June 21, the New York Times featured Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center as a national model in the effective and swift treatment of heart attacks, comparable to Mayo Clinic and New York Presbyterian Hospital. Current guidelines call for door-to-balloon time (from time of arrival at hospital to insertion of a balloon angioplasty in the catheterization lab) at 90 minutes. Lourdes’ average time is 50 minutes, a statistic the Times noted as “amazing.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/health/saving-heart-attack-victims-stat.html).

Lourdes partner in this system, Virtua, does an exceptional job of providing Advanced Life Support in Camden, according to Hatala.

“The vast majority of 911 calls are made for people who are suspected of having stroke or cardiac condition requiring urgent attention. A much smaller percentage of the calls are for trauma. With that in mind, it begs the question, if it’s not broke, why fix it?”

The hospitals say the current model works is cost-effective. Virtua provides the paramedic service at no cost to the state. However, Cooper is requesting $2.5 million of taxpayer funds to develop a new program that it would run for the City of Camden.

Lourdes is the lowest-cost provider for heart care in the region, the officials argued, where heart attack patients are cared for at a cost that is about half of Cooper’s.

“Bottom line, should this bill become law, residents would lose high-quality, lower-cost care while taxpayers foot the bill,” added Hatala. “This bill would cause local fragmentation of an already high-performing EMS system regionally and across the state of New Jersey. There is no reason to change the current model. Camden’s residents are getting top-notch care now. The results speak for themselves.”

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