Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center (MHMC) has expanded its revenue-generating sources by launching its own emergency medical services (EMS) with a fleet of six ambulances and three support vehicles. Beginning on Sept. 4, people who call 911 because they need an ambulance in Secaucus will be sent one that is managed by MHMC instead of McCabe Ambulance.
“The ambulance service is a revenue source we need to capture,” said Lynn McVey, president and CEO last week. “Admissions are critical.” She said that the average admission can generate $11,000 for the hospital and that the hospital stands to lose $500,000 if just one patient is shuttled to another location.
But the hospital agreed with a stipulation made by the municipality that its EMS can take a patient to the hospital of their choice within a 25-mile radius barring any state mandate that requires a certain type of trauma to be handled at a specific hospital.
MHMC was sold to MHA LLC – a for-profit private investment firm – in December 2010. MHA purchased the hospital for $15 million from nonprofit owners LibertyHealth, which runs Jersey City Medical Center.
“The ambulance service is a revenue source we need to capture.” – Lynn McVey
Prior to that agreement, the municipality paid the previous hospital owner, Jersey City Medical Center, over $400,000 a year for EMS.
After an hour of debate in a closed session on Aug. 20, the mayor and Town Council unanimously voted to approve the agreement with the hospital to provide dispatch and emergency medical services for five years at no cost to the town.
Hospital’s finances under scrutiny
The hospital’s financial practices recently came under scrutiny after a draft of an annual financial audit revealed that they allegedly defaulted on a loan and overdrew a bank account by $1 million in 2011, despite posting a 10 percent profit and paying investors $8.4 million, according to a published report in The Record.
Employees also said paychecks have bounced at least three times since December, which prompted an investigation by the state Department of Labor, according to the article.
The story also said the hospital recorded an unprecedented turnaround of $9 million profit in 2011 – which is four times the state average – after a reported $10.4 million loss in 2010.
McVey would only describe the audit The Record’s story was based on as a “draft” in response to questions about the financial findings.
The original agreement between the municipality and MHMC signed in March 2011 stipulated that if MHMC were to switch EMS providers, the new company had to have at least five years experience in the business. Since the hospital has no experience directly handling EMS services, the stipulation was changed to require that an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) professional with at least five years of experience always ride in the ambulance.
“The general consensus of everyone here is that we want you to succeed. By us partnering in this endeavor it’s not only saving us money from the town’s end, but hopefully this helps you succeed as a locally-based hospital around town,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli during the council caucus meeting.
McVey said another reason MHMC decided to launch its own EMS was because they suspected emergency room patients were going to hospitals outside the area and that MHMC wants to “keep our own.”
Eight-minute response time
Almost a year ago, the municipality awarded Mickey McCabe, EMS coordinator for Hudson County OEM and his team, with the “Above and Beyond Award” for their efforts during Hurricane Irene. Gonnelli said because he has a close relationship with McCabe, he was “taken aback by the whole [EMS] issue.”
“We’ve had our reservations,” said Gonnelli.
McCabe was required to respond to 911 calls within seven minutes and 59 seconds, barring any extraordinary circumstances. The mayor said that the response time of the second McCabe ambulance has exceeded eight minutes many times over the past couple of months.
The original contract with McCabe also required that two ambulances be stationed in town, but Gonnelli said that this was not always followed.
“We’ve never had two EMS units,” said Gonnelli. “The second came from Jersey City, which created usually a response time of well over 8 minutes. I really wasn’t happy over the last few months of what was going on and we had several calls over eight minutes.
The state standard for ambulance response time is 7:48.
MHMC has agreed to pay the municipality $300 each time the response of any ambulance exceeds eight minutes. MHMC also agreed to maintain two ambulances in Secaucus, at all times, and to provide a third ambulance to stand by at community and sporting events if requested. One ambulance will be stationed at the local Office of Emergency Management lot in the center of town, and one will be stationed at the hospital.
“The eight minute response time has to be adhered to,” said Gonnelli.
“Time really does make a difference,” said Dr. Howard Felderman, medical director of the Meadowlands EMS. He said that the Emergency Room sees 50 to 70 patients a day and 12,000 to 18,000 per year. He said the ailments range from a baby with an infection to car accident victims to strokes.
Felderman noted that in the past, for any patients that needed an angiogram – a special X-ray for patients suffering from an acute heart attack – they had to wait 20 to 30 minutes to be transported to a hospital that could perform the procedure. However, starting in September, with the availability of MHMC’s transport unit, patients will no longer have to wait.
Frank Travisano, who worked for McCabe for 27 years, was hired to serve as the director of the EMS by MHMC. The EMS and dispatch center employs 35 people and MHMC plans to hire 10 additional people in September.
“It was an exciting move,” said Travisano. He noted that he was happy about the opportunity to build the ambulance service from the ground up. “It is great to be given that ability.”
He said that the success of the EMS will depend on patient care.
“The whole idea of the EMT is treating the patient,” said Travisano.
All local 911 calls are handled by the Police Department, which dispatches any medical calls to the medical emergency services provider. The department also dispatches fire and police calls accordingly.
MHMC plans to monitor police and fire calls to anticipate any medical needs and have an ambulance ready at the scene should that be required.
“We always monitor Secaucus police and Secaucus fire,” said Travisano. “Especially on the fire calls [if] all of a sudden you hear ‘working fire,’ that ambulance has gotta be rolling, because the [dispatcher] might not have the ability to pick the phone up and call us right away.”
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.