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June 25, 2015

N.J. Legislature awards Camden's emergency services to Cooper University Hospital

Bill now goes to Gov. Christie for final approval

Health News Emergency Services
Cooper University Hospital Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.

New Jersey state lawmakers approved legislation Thursday that would give Cooper University Hospital the responsibility for advanced life support and emergency care services in Camden.

The bill awards Level 1 trauma centers exclusive rights to develop and maintain life support services in their respective municipalities. If signed by Gov. Chris Christie, the bill would hand Cooper the keys to Camden's emergency services, removing Virtua Health System, a competitor that has provided the services for decades.

There are three Level 1 trauma centers in New Jersey, but the bill only will affect ALS services in Camden, according to NBC10.  The two other trauma centers — UMDNJ University Hospital in Newark and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick — already provide ALS services in their respective municipalities.

The bill passed the Senate by a 27-12 vote and the Assembly by a 58-16 vote with three abstentions.

Virtua officials have vocally opposed the legislation.

Scott Kasper, Virtua assistant vice president for Emergency Services, testified Monday at committee hearings, claiming legislators are attempting to bypass the existing regulatory process for changing ALS providers. He said the Department of Health can determine whether a change is needed, according to

"I'm quite confident that upon review, the services Virtua has provided would be determined to be outstanding, and this type of change wouldn't be necessary," Kasper testified. "This is simply a demonstration that they think our service is quite excellent and wouldn't get the results they want if they went down that path."

Steven E. Ross, director of Cooper's Center for Trauma Services, urged lawmakers in a letter to approve the bill. The letter said Camden's emergency medical services are "fragmented and administered by ... institutions with little connection to Camden." 

"Camden's Emergency Medical Services should be managed by a world-class health care system located in Camden and committed to Camden," Ross wrote. "City residents deserve no less."

Cooper officials also pointed to data, released by the Camden County Department of Public Safety, showing Virtua fails to provide timely emergency care to nearly one-third of Camden residents.

Public Safety Director Robin Blaker told that the department analyzed all ALS 911 calls in Camden this year after fielding repeated media inquiries.

"Of the 2,961 calls responded to, on 788 occasions Virtua Paramedics failed to arrive to the individual in need of care within eight minutes from the original dispatch point of contact," Blaker said.

Virtua released a statement Thursday questioning the timing of the release, accusing Cooper of distributing data that had never before been cited or published.

That statement came one day after Virtua Chief Executive Richard Miller expressed frustration at a news conference, comparing the legislative process to "communist China," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“What in God's name is happening in this state?" Miller said. "What's happening to our process in this state, when one person can want something — I thought I landed in communist China — one person wants something and can take it away from another business, just unilaterally, and get people to agree to it?"

Miller was referencing Cooper Chairman George E. Norcross III, a Democratic Party leader and insurance executive who previously owned the Inquirer.

Dan Fee, a spokesman for Norcross, responded by saying Miller's remarks "crystallize" the issue.

"He's focused on Virtua profits and everyone else is focused on the quality of care that Camden residents receive," Fee said. "If you were seriously injured, would you want your first care to come from the region's only Level 1 trauma center or a community hospital?"

PhillyVoice Managing Director Lexie Norcross sits on the Cooper Foundation Board of Trustees. Her father, George E. Norcross III is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Cooper Health System.

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