Bill Would Help Speed Emergency Transfers Between Hospitals

Andrew Kitchenman | April 29, 2013 | Health Care
Measure would reduce delays by requiring hospitals to have backup plan if first request for ambulance can't be met quickly

Credit: Amanda Brown
Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz (R-Morris, Somerset and Union).
Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz believes that her husband might still be alive if he didn’t have to wait some two hours for a transfer from one hospital to another.

The bill she is sponsoring A-792 would put a procedure in place to help eliminate that delay. It comes up for a vote today before the full Assembly.

The measure would require hospitals to establish an action plan to request that a specialty care transportation unit (SCTU) be dispatched immediately, and to a have a fallback strategy if the first isn’t available.

Munoz described SCTUs as “intensive care units on wheels.” They are equipped to serve patients who require life support or specialized life-sustaining equipment and are staffed by specially trained personnel.

There are roughly 50 SCTUs in the state.

Dr. Munoz, an assemblyman who was succeeded by his wife after his death, died in March 2009 from complications from a dissecting aortic aneurysm, in which blood is pumped into the sac around the heart. He needed to be transferred to University Hospital in Newark, which can perform emergency bypass surgery, said Munoz, who has worked as a nurse.

Munoz added, “A two-hour wait for a person who was bleeding around his heart, somebody’s who’s critically ill, is unacceptable.”

She said her husband, a trauma surgeon at University Hospital, realized the importance of a timely transfer.

“He needed to get there as soon as possible and the ambulance wasn’t sent as soon as possible,” Nancy Munoz said. “The [University Hospital] doctors said, ‘If you want to do one thing to honor Eric’s memory, you do this bill,’ ” said Munoz.

She declined to name the facility that had difficulty arranging the transfer.

Munoz said she has explained to constituents the importance of the bill in personal terms: “Nothing can bring him back. However, this will help if it happens to you or to your mother.”

“This is to prevent this from happen to anybody else,” Munoz said. She said that the circumstances around her husband’s death weren’t unique and that other patients have had to wait far too long for transfers.

Munoz agreed to a change in the bill’s language, from saying that hospitals must “ensure” immediate dispatch to saying that they must “request” immediate dispatch. She said this change was in response to concerns raised by hospitals.

She said that she didn’t write the bill in anger, but to continue her husband’s legacy.

Sen. Kevin J. O’Toole (R-Bergen, Essex, Morris, and Passaic) sponsored the bill in the Senate. That chamber passed the measure by a 38-0 vote on December 20. If the Assembly passes it today, Gov. Chris Christie will have 45 days to sign it.

“We just want to make sure, going forward, that we save lives, because that’s what my husband did for a living: save lives,” Munoz said.