CarePoint and McCabe Ambulance Service want to give Jersey City residents another option for which service arrives in an emergency. Right now, Jersey City Medical Center’s EMS service arrives when Jersey City residents call 911, but that contract will expire this Dec. 31.
CarePoint, a health network that runs three local hospitals, and McCabe have submitted a joint bid to lay claim to the Jersey City contract to provide the city with ambulance service.
JCMC has been the city’s provider for 130 years, something that could change if the City Council picks McCabe, based in Bayonne.
McCabe Ambulance currently provides EMS for the three CarePoint Health facilities in Hudson County: Christ Hospital in Jersey City, Bayonne Medical Center, and Hoboken University Medical Center.
Jersey City Medical Center paramedics, who have more advanced training than EMTs, supply emergency services for the county of Hudson.
Although other ambulance providers have challenged JCMC in other Hudson County municipalities over the years, the Jersey City bid is the first serious challenge posed.
“We want to get the right patient to the right hospital at the right time.” – Dr. Mark Spektor
The challenge comes partly because CarePoint, which operates three for-profit hospitals in Hudson County, has become a predominant challenger to JCMC.
Area hospitals have long complained that JCMC’s EMS units steered emergency patients to JCMC rather than transporting them to hospital nearest to where the emergency occurred.
Times have changed
In the past, Liberty Health owned or operated several local hospitals, including JCMC, Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, Greenville Hospital in Jersey City, and other facilities. Now they just manage JCMC.
Jersey City at one point in time was served by seven hospitals. This has been reduced to two: JCMC and Christ Hospital.
JCMC became a level II trauma care facility more than a decade ago, which boosted its patient numbers. Before that, many trauma cases were sent to Newark instead.
CarePoint and McCabe
McCabe, which has operated in Bayonne for more than 40 years, has not had an extensive presence beyond Bayonne. It briefly operated a free service out of Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, and serves as back up ambulance service in Hoboken. CarePoint is willing to help McCabe expand its fleet and facilities if the Jersey City contract is awarded to McCabe.
McCabe said the plan would develop four brick and mortar sites for ambulances to be located in Jersey City.
JCMC currently posts ambulances on the street in various locations, but does not have permanent housing for them.
Owner Mickey McCabe said he will transport patients to the nearest hospital based on the medical condition of the patient.
Since JCMC is the county’s trauma center, it will still get cases that involve multiple injuries and similar issues.
But patients will go to hospitals of their choice, provided it does not conflict with their medical needs, McCabe said.
McCabe already has 911 dispatch service in Bayonne that handles calls for Bayonne and Hoboken, which can also be adapted to handle Jersey City calls as well.
Where to bring patients
Dr. Mark Spektor, president of Bayonne Medical Center, said a policy of taking patients to the most appropriate hospital makes medical sense. This could be because a hospital has a particular expertise such as in heart or stroke treatment or because a patient’s doctors have an affiliation other than with JCMC.
But at the core of this conflict is the insurance money lost to CarePoint when one of its hospitals is bypassed.
CarePoint runs for-profit hospitals that have done away with contracts with standard insurance providers. But insurance providers must still pay the hospital’s full price for urgent services that come through the Emergency Room.
Bayonne Medical Center has been rated as one of the most expensive hospitals in the country because they have increased the cost of services to insurance companies who fail to give the hospital what the hospital sees as a reasonable reimbursement rate for services.
A huge portion of CarePoint’s profits come through its emergency rooms, and so an ambulance service that more fairly distributes patients to hospitals around the county could mean a big boost in hospital revenues for CarePoint.
In turn, the loss of the ambulance contract for JCMC could also see a significant loss of its own revenues at a time when the two powerful medical groups are competing for physicians, establishing one-stop medical centers, and vying for the even bigger pot of medical revenue gold that might be generated through the implementation of Obamacare.
Jersey City has put out the contract for bid twice since 2006, both times awarding it to JCMC. But for the first time, McCabe backed by the financial wherewithal of CarePoint, can offer an alternative and perhaps more attractive bid.
Without releasing details of the bid, McCabe said he believe his bid would save Jersey City millions of dollars from its current contract.
JCMC received a $3.6 million subsidy from the city the first year of current contract, increased to $3.7 million second year and $3.8 second year, and $3.9 million 2013.
While a number of other ambulance companies would like to get the contract, McCabe – backed by CarePoint – is in the best position to provide a competitive offer.
“Up until this point, Jersey City Medical Center has had a monopoly on that service,” Mickey McCabe said. “We believe we can give the city better service at a better price.”
JCMC has offered to do away with the subsidy, which could sweeten its bid offer.
Jersey City has a fleet of 42 ambulances that also operate as mini-trauma centers in which emergency medical technicians (EMTs) can do everything from resuscitate heart attack patients to induce therapeutic hypothermia for patients with spinal cord injuries.
McCabe, whose existing fleet is about half of JCMC’s but would be expanded if he wins the contract, said EMTs do much more than they used to than in the past, and said training has been a critical component of his operation for years.
“If we’re awarded the contract, we’ll be up and rolling by Jan. 1 when the contract starts,” he said.
Spektor said this is an issue of appropriate medical care.
“We want to get the right patient to the right hospital at the right time,” he said. “Some patients will have to go to Jersey City Medical Center. We’re not disputing that. But some patients will be better served by going to the hospital nearest to them or the hospital that has the expertise they need for their condition.”
McCabe said his service handles tens of thousands of calls yearly and so it is well equipped to hand the estimated 80,000 calls Jersey City generates annually.
“We bring 40 years of experience on the street to this,” McCabe said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.