Court: No, Cooper Hospital Can’t Be Camden’s Sole Paramedic Provider

Legislation fast-tracked by the Christie administration has been deemed unconstitutional.

Cooper and Virtua continue to battle over ambulatory services in Camden.

Cooper and Virtua continue to battle over ambulatory services in Camden.

Cooper University Hospital and Virtua have been battling for months over a controversial new law allowing Cooper to effectively take over paramedic services in Camden County. But on Tuesday, Mercer County Superior Court deemed the law unconstitutional.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Chris Christie in July, said that all advanced life support (ALS) services must go through each county’s level-one trauma center. In Camden County, that’s Cooper, which said the law will lead to better treatment for patients. But Virtua has been providing paramedic services in Camden County for 38 years and was very vocal about their opposition to the law.

The law also affected Hamilton County, where all ALS services were now set to go through Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital — but that angered the folks at Capital Health, who have been providing such services since 1977.

So Virtua and Capital Health sued to get the law overturned — and Tuesday’s decision in Mercer County Superior Court is a big win for them.

“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,” said Rich Miller, president and CEO of Virtua, in a statement. “Now we look forward to continuing our focus on what is most critical to South Jersey residents, which is our on-going 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.”

But Cooper released a statement saying that — for patient’s sake — Camden needs first-rate ambulatory services.

“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,” the statement said.

But don’t expect this matter to be resolved anytime soon. Cooper is planning to appeal.

“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 at Cooper University Hospital,” a Cooper statement said. “This is how emergency services are provided in the other New Jersey cities with Level-1 trauma centers. 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, unless action is taken that will allow Cooper to provide this service.”

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with BizPhilly — here’s how: