Staying alive
As city explores its ambulance options, JCMC goes on the offensive to keep contract
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Nov 10, 2013 | 7270 views | 0 0 comments | 178 178 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jersey City’s current EMS contract with Jersey City Medical Center ends on Dec. 31. According to one source, the administration of Mayor Steven Fulop has expressed a strong willingness to explore other options for the city’s ambulance service.
Jersey City’s current EMS contract with Jersey City Medical Center ends on Dec. 31. According to one source, the administration of Mayor Steven Fulop has expressed a strong willingness to explore other options for the city’s ambulance service.
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Hours after an alleged gunman fired shots inside Garden State Plaza Mall, and allegedly died later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) companies throughout Northern New Jersey were touting their preparedness for the next 9/11, Newtown, or Boston Marathon.

Among those eagerly publicizing the skills of their EMS personnel was Jersey City Medical Center, Jersey City’s ambulance provider of choice for more than a century.

Jersey City’s current EMS contract with Jersey City Medical Center ends on Dec. 31. Given that the Medical Center has been the city’s EMS operator for the past 130 years, it is quite possible that the hospital, located on Grand Street downtown, could retain the contract. But at least one source connected with the hospital said the administration of Mayor Steven Fulop is open to switching to another EMS provider.

The city is currently accepting bids from EMS providers. Those bids are due this week, on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

The city’s EMS contract has been put out for bid twice since 2006. Jersey City Medical Center won a three-year contract in 2006. Then, in 2009, the hospital received a four-year contract that will end next month.
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‘There is a significant amount of competition right now, and there are some companies that are looking to get into the Jersey City market.’ – Robert Luckritz
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When the current contract began, the city paid Jersey City Medical Center a $3.6 million subsidy for its EMS, according to city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill. This increased to $3.7 million the next year and $3.8 million in year three. For 2013, the city paid $3.9 million for the hospital’s EMS.

Despite the long history between the city and the Medical Center, the hospital is feeling pressure from other ambulance providers that have either entered or expanded their presence in the market in recent years.

“There is a significant amount of competition right now, and there are some companies that are looking to get into the Jersey City market,” said Robert Luckritz, interim director of the hospital’s EMS.

The next contract, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, will be for three years, Morrill said, although the city will have the option to make two one-year extensions to whichever company wins the bid.

“The city has made no determination on a provider as we are in the process of soliciting public bids as the residents of Jersey City would expect their elected officials to do,” Morrill stated. “We will evaluate the cost and quality of service. The residents of Jersey City would expect a public and transparent process and not to just award a contract because the Medical Center feels entitled. The Medical Center is more than able to publicly bid and be competitive with other bids. This is what residents would expect.”

At press time, Luckritz said that Jersey City Medical Center will submit a bid by the deadline this week, in hopes that it can continue its relationship with the city.

And, as an added caveat, he said the hospital is doing well enough financially that it no longer needs a multi-million-dollar subsidy from the city.

“Back in 2006, the Medical Center was losing $66 million a year, and EMS was in the same place,” said Luckritz. “We were also losing a significant amount of money. But, in just the same way that the Medical Center has turned around over the past five years, EMS has also turned around. From a financial standpoint, we’re in a much better place than we were four years ago.”

Different approaches to ambulance service

Jersey City Medical Center has been supplying the city with ambulance service since the days when such transport literally consisted of a horse and carriage traveling down unpaved streets.

Today, the Medical Center’s fleet of 42 ambulances serve as mini trauma centers that allow emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to do everything from resuscitate heart attack patients to induce therapeutic hypothermia for patients with spinal cord injuries.

Jersey City Medical Center employs 250 EMTs, paramedics, dispatchers, drivers, and support staff, total, Luckritz said, more than half of whom are also Jersey City residents.

Municipalities throughout Hudson County use different approaches to supply Emergency Medical Service to their residents. While Jersey City contracts its EMS through a hospital, in 2011 Secaucus opted to use the privately-operated McCabe Ambulance for its EMS. More recently, in 2012, Secaucus returned to the hospital model and now gets its ambulance service through Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, which is based in Secaucus. Other municipalities, like Harrison, rely on the local Fire Department for their EMS.

McCabe Ambulance provides EMS for the three CarePoint Health facilities in Hudson County, which include 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 Hudson County.

Given the options available to the city and the impending EMS contract award, Jersey City Medical Center is waging a media campaign to tout its successes over the past four years.

For example, in 2007, the EMS dispatchers began using the computerized MARVLIS System, which uses historical 911 call data to predict the locations of the next emergency calls. This allows dispatchers to place ambulances in likely call areas.

“Because we’re moving the ambulances to where the calls are going to occur, we actually need fewer ambulances on the road and we were able to reduce our response times from about nine minutes to under six minutes,” said Luckritz.

Hospital officials also say their EMTs are now able to get pulses on about 50 percent of cardiac arrest patients while they are still en route to the hospital, a rate that is higher than the national average.

It remains to be seen whether these successes will be enough to retain the city’s ambulance contract in the coming years.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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