The City Council has voted to continue the existing ambulance contract with Jersey City Medical Center for another month, and some local groups are asking for additional information about the original proposal to award a three-year contract to McCabe Ambulance of Bayonne.
Mayor Steve Fulop, based on the recommendation of a review committee, asked the City Council to award the contract to McCabe on Dec. 18, but withdrew the request amid a public outcry – and amid questions from at least two council members.
Councilman Richard Boggiano said he found out about the recommendation from a newspaper report a few days before the council was scheduled to vote on the matter in December.
The contract was to start on Jan. 1, but the mayor’s office withdrew the request just prior to the Dec. 18 meeting.
“We didn’t have enough time to review it,” Boggiano said.
Although some feared the matter would appear on the agenda for the Jan. 15 meeting, Boggiano said it will not – and better not be.
“I still have questions about how McCabe was selected,” he said.
Recently community leaders and members of Beacon of Light asked JCMC and CarePoint/McCabe to attend a community forum regarding the contract.
JCMC has held the contract for more than 100 years and is hoping to keep it.
McCabe declines to appear at citizens’ forum
A Dec. 26 letter authored by residents Brigid D’Souza, Yoo Lee, and Matt Schoenfeld to Mayor Fulop outlined a number of concerns about the process of selecting McCabe over JCMC.
“We are a group of concerned citizens and have endeavored to research, compile, and synthesize the facts as we understand them,” their letter said. “EMS is a critical component of our local healthcare system and our existing provider, JCMC EMS, is a nationally recognized model for EMS. As such, we feel the public should have reasonable assurances that any change in that service provider is justified and reasonable. Further, we feel the public should be afforded the opportunity to question and challenge the city’s decision-making processes if those processes appear to be inconsistent, non-transparent, or poorly communicated by the city to the public.”
The group held a forum on the change. But McCabe declined to attend the event.
“We didn’t have enough time to review it.” – Councilman Richard Boggiano
He said McCabe Ambulance has been providing ambulance services in Hudson County for more than 40 years and has been the exclusive provider of 9-1-1 ambulance service for the city of Bayonne since the early 1980s.
“Indeed, for years, we have served as backup to JCMC EMS in Jersey City and have the utmost respect for all the hard-working, dedicated employees currently employed by JCMC EMS,” he said. “We know Jersey City and understand its EMS needs, and stand ready to serve the people of this community. As the locally-owned and operated ambulance provider, we know we can provide professional, efficient, comprehensive life-saving ambulance services to all Jersey City residents, and we can do so without the $4 million annual payment Jersey City taxpayers have been paying the Barnabas Medical Center for years.” Barnabas and JCMC have a cooperative agreement.
Campaign donations to Fulop
CarePoint Healthcare, which owns three for-profit hospitals in Hudson County – Bayonne Medical Center, Hoboken University Medical Center and Christ Hospital in Jersey City – has put its financial resources behind McCabe’s competition with JCMC.
Some claim JCMC ambulances have been taking patients to JCMC rather than to the nearest hospital – which sometimes is Christ Hospital. Since emergency room services are a potential significant revenue stream for the for-profit hospitals, it is in Carepoint’s financial interest to back McCabe.
But Critics have raised some serious questions as to how the mayor’s evaluation committee selected McCabe over JCMC, and whether or not the committee gave too much weight to the financial benefit McCabe’s contract offered over other factors in which JCMC excelled.
Critics also questioned political donations made to Mayor Fulop and his slate of council candidates prior to the last election by former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, who serves as a lobbyist for CarePoint.
Torricelli, who was instrumental in helping the purchase of the CarePoint Hospitals, donated $5,000 to Fulop, and $2,500 to the Fulop team.
While McCabe said he had not contributed to the Fulop campaign and thus didn’t violate the city’s pay-to-play regulations, some question whether or not Torricelli’s contributions were a means of getting around those regulations.
A lot of unanswered questions
The request for proposals was posted by the city on Sept. 27, 2013. McCabe and JCMC submitted bids.
JCMC had performed the ambulance service at no cost to the city from 1998 to 2005. (Patients still got charged, as is standard.) But fiscal problems prompted the not-for-profit hospital to charge about $4 million per year starting in 2006.
The financing not only helped save the service, but allowed JCMC to make upgrades, modernizing its fleet with new technology, as well as to provide new buildings, additional training and other changes.
JCMC and others point out that JCMC has received state and national recognition as well as key accreditation for its services.
One of the central issues in awarding the contract to McCabe involves McCabe’s willingness to reimburse the city about $2.6 million for use of the Fire Department as first responders. The bid specifications gave the bidder the option to pay the cost of the Fire Department or supply their own first responders. JCMC decided to provide its own.
While the committee that selected McCabe said the decision was not based on financial considerations solely, the city stands to gain more from the McCabe offer than JCMC’s even though both have offered to provide the service for free.
If the decision was based on the ability to provide the service, then critics say JCMC appears to have better credentials, and the advanced technology that McCabe currently does not. JCMC also currently has a fleet of vehicles necessary to do the job, while McCabe would need to purchase more.
Some critics have even questioned why McCabe, which operated its ambulance service in Secaucus in connection with Meadowlands Hospital, was terminated by that hospital. McCabe said Meadowlands Hospital opted to provide their own service in order to collect the additional revenue associated with transport of patients. At the time, McCabe was providing that service for free.
Boggiano said he still needed more information and was seeking a number of answers to critical questions, especially regarding the committee’s recommendations since JCMC scored higher overall in the bid process except in the area of finance.
The council is expected to take up the matter later in January, although it is unclear if the contract will be awarded.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.