A Superior Court judge halted a new law set to go into effect in January that would allow the takeover of emergency medical services by new providers in Camden and Hamilton.(Editor’s note: This report was updated at 8:25 a.m. Wednesday with comments from Capital Health System.)
A Superior Court judge halted a new law set to go into effect in January that would allow the takeover of emergency medical services by new providers in Camden and Hamilton.
The order by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Douglas Hurd states that the law is unconstitutional and considered special legislation, and halted it from being implemented Jan. 2.
The law was signed this summer by Gov. Chris Christie and would have transferred emergency services to certified Level 1 trauma centers in the two communities.
This meant that Virtua Health, which had provided services in Camden for the past 38 years, and Capital Health System, which provided services in Hamilton, would no longer be able to.
Instead, Cooper University Hospital would take over in Camden and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital would take over in Hamilton.
“We are pleased that the court agreed with us that the controversial New Jersey act changing how emergency medical services were to be provided under the act was unconstitutional special legislation. Now we look forward to continuing our focus on what is most critical to South Jersey residents, which is our ongoing provision of experienced, award-winning and high quality EMS services for the people in the City of Camden, and the 76 other municipalities we serve in Camden and Burlington counties,” Virtua CEO Richard Miller said in a statement Tuesday.
Cooper said it believes the battle is not yet over.
“Today’s ruling by Superior Court Judge Hurd regarding emergency medical services in the City of Camden is just another step in a process that began when 75 percent of the New Jersey Legislature voted in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion to integrate EMS services in Camden with southern New Jersey’s only Level 1 Trauma Center, Cooper University Hospital. This is how emergency services are provided in the other New Jersey cities with Level 1 Trauma Centers,” Cooper said in a statement.
“Independent studies and media reports have found that current emergency response times in Camden fall short of the recommended standards, and we continue to believe that Camden’s residents deserve nothing less than the same level of high quality care available in other communities.”
In October, taking example from the battle in the city, the county of Camden released a study on response times by Virtua, without providing a reason for the evaluation. Virtua released a study of its own that countered the claims and sought to shine a light on flaws in the county’s report.
“Let’s connect the dots. Cooper first called public attention to Camden County’s paramedic response data on June 24. IXP’s report is dated Aug. 27, 2015, and Camden County issued its press release and the IXP report on Oct. 8, 2015. All of this time, no city or county official called Virtua to express any concerns with our paramedic service. If there were an issue, why did they not call us? Why did they not engage us in the EMS study?” Miller told NJBIZ in October.
While the law has been halted, this is only Round One, said Brach Eichler health care attorney Mark Manigan.
“The judge has determined the rationale supporting the statute is too thin. Our constitution prohibits special legislation which is designed to favor an institution or individual,” Manigan said.
Virtua claimed in the lawsuit that the law favors Cooper Health.
“You don’t see claimants often successful in this kind of claim. I suspect there is an appeal in the future,” Manigan said. “Until another judge or the Legislature do something, the status quo remains.”
That means Virtua will continue to provide the services in Camden and Capital Health in Hamilton.
“For over 30 years, Capital Health has provided outstanding pre-hospital care to patients who need us. That is what we continue to do today, and will continue to do tomorrow. There is no justifiable reason for that to change, and we are pleased with the court’s decision. Our commitment is to our patients and that is our highest priority,” a Capital spokesperson said in a statement.
Cooper said in a statement: “We expect that the New Jersey Appellate Division will quickly review Judge Hurd’s decision and support the Legislature’s overwhelming vote last June. Time is of the essence because Camden is at risk of being without Basic Life Support Services beginning Jan. 2, 2016, unless action is taken that will allow Cooper to provide this service.”