Lawsuit Claims Legislation Transferring Ambulance Services is Unconstitutional

Virtua and Capital Health Systems have filed a lawsuit challenging a law allowing the transfer of ambulance services.

By Briana Vannozzi

Opponents of the law claim it’s unreasonable and irrational.

“We think we have a very strong case,” said attorney Philip Lebowitz.

A hospital in New Jersey is required to submit a “certificate of need” if they’re interested in providing emergency medical services. This goes through a long vetting process by the Department of Health. The lawsuit claims Cooper circumvented the system by going straight to the Legislature. Their intent was signed, sealed and delivered into law in just weeks.

“Here the Legislature has stepped in, taking that role away from the Department of Health and made these specific designations,” said Lebowitz.

The law doesn’t name Cooper directly, but it gives hospitals with Level I Trauma Centers the right to run ambulance and paramedic services in their host towns.

“The only real benefit for the main part of the legislation is to provide Cooper with the exclusive right to provide advance life support services in Camden which Virtua has been doing for the last 38 years,” Lebowitz said.

The suit also points out that taxpayers will foot the bill. In a similarly irrational move, the Legislature and governor have approved the appropriation of $5 million to subsidize the implementation of the act.

“To allow them to start up a program that Virtua has already had up and running for all this time,” Lebowitz said.

Capital Health jumped in because it applies in Trenton too, granting EMS rights to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, a service Capital Health has provided for 30 years. At a press conference last month, the opponents accused politics were at play, referring to Cooper board chairman and Democratic power broker George Norcross.

“I couldn’t get this legislation through in two weeks, so someone has to be able to push the legislation and get the votes,” said Virtua CEO Richard Miller.

“Even the sponsors of the legislation and anyone who is testifying in the hearings on this legislation said they had no problem with the quality of the services that were already being provided,” Lebowitz said.

Neighbors of Cooper say for them it’s more about the monopoly they see taking place in Camden.

Because Cooper is able to and has the power and the money and the backing to swallow up whole neighborhoods, especially this area,” said Camden resident Clementine Williams.

Both Cooper and the attorney general’s office said they just received the lawsuit and won’t comment on pending litigation. Calls to George Norcross’ spokesperson went unreturned today.

The state now has 35 days to respond to this lawsuit or the legislation goes into effect in the next six months.