With two years until the McCabe Ambulance contract expires in Bayonne, officials apparently are looking at options for seeking bids that would provide service without cost to the city.
While Jersey City Medical Center said earlier this year that it was interested in expanding its service, sources connected to the Davis Administration said the city is looking more closely at the contract in light of a bidding war in Jersey City, in which McCabe not only offered to provide the service for free but was willing to reimburse Jersey City $2.5 million to cover the cost of first responders.
In Jersey City, the fire department sends a unit to each medical emergency to help stabilize patients until an ambulance can arrive, reducing response times.
While the reimbursement provision has been stripped from new bidding requirements, the battle between JCMC and CarePoint-backed McCabe has raised concerns about the $900,000 Bayonne pays to McCabe annually.
Local officials may be looking for alternatives that will cut this cost, and could result in a request for ambulance services to charge no fee for covering Bayonne.
A Bayonne fixture
McCabe Ambulance has been operating in Bayonne since 1973, and was the sole responder to the ambulance contract which was approved in November 2010.
The contract for ambulance emergency medical response services includes emergency dispatch services for the 2011-2016 contract for the period which began July 1, 2011, and will end June 30, 2016 for a total of $3.9 million.
Mickey McCabe, founder of McCabe Ambulance, said he believes that JCMC is “saber rattling,” in the aftermath of McCabe’s bid to operate in Jersey City.
JCMC has run EMS services in Jersey City for more than 100 years and was challenged late last year by McCabe – backed by CarePoint Health, which owns Bayonne Medical Center, Christ Hospital in Jersey City, and Hoboken University Medical Center.
“CarePoint is concerned about Christ Hospital being bypassed,” McCabe said. “That’s what the fight is all about.”
McCabe’s offer to provide service to Jersey City for free prompted JCMC to match that offer, and give up the $4 million annual subsidy Jersey City gave JCMC in the prior five- year contract. JCMC said the subsidy was no longer needed since the hospital has recovered from the fiscal problems it had when the previous contract was first negotiated.
The contract proposals from both McCabe and JCMC offered to provide ambulance service free of charge to the city for the three years of the contract. JCMC provided service without charge to the city from 1998 to 2006 (patients were still charged as is the standard), but the hospital charged the city $4 million annually from 2006 until last year.
JCMC officials said that during the previous contract, the hospital was in dire financial straits and needed the money to keep its doors open. This money also allowed JCMC to modernize its ambulance service. But since then, the hospital has rebounded and JCMC says it can offer the service for free.
McCabe/CarePoint officials believe that the emergence of their competing bid may have forced JCMC to bid at no charge.
The patient factor
Both ambulance companies make their money from transport of patients, whose insurance or other medical coverage pays for some or all of the service. Paramedics, which JCMC currently provide, are an additional cost, and McCabe would have to subcontract for that service if the city awards them the contract.
“If we’ve done nothing else,” McCabe said, “we’ve saved Jersey City $4 million a year even if we don’t get the contract.”
JCMC appears poised, however, to return the favor to Bayonne, by bidding a no-fee contract to compete with McCabe.
“But that’s two years away,” McCabe said. “A lot of things change in two years.”
Currently the battle is over the Jersey City contract. Last December, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop recommended McCabe get the contract over JCMC. But this included a controversial reimbursement proposal – which would have McCabe giving the city $2.5 million to cover the cost of firefighters.
Since then the Fulop Administration withdrew the contract award and opted to seek new bids for the contract without the first-responder provision.
“The city is asking for bids on two aspects, one for providing service for the whole city,” McCabe said. “The other would divide the city north and south.”
Since Christ Hospital is in the northern part of the city, McCabe and CarePoint are looking for that as a possible option.
A battle by any other name
McCabe, however, said the war between conflicting ambulance services is a misnomer, saying that McCabe and JCMC EMS units have worked side by side for years, and that the battle is really between the hospital giants, each of which is trying to secure the insurance and other payments that emergency cases bring in.
While McCabe can’t say what Jersey City will do, he said he is not concerned about Bayonne.
In Bayonne, politics is a factor. McCabe worked closely with former Mayor Mark Smith, whom Davis defeated in June. Some Davis supporters may be working behind the scenes to punish McCabe for his political loyalty.
“I get along very well with Jimmy Davis,” McCabe said. “In fact his son works for us. Jimmy [the mayor and police captain] and I have worked on the street together,” McCabe said.”We have two years left on our contract. The landscape will change in that time.”
In a statement issued in response to a request for comment, JCMC said, “Jersey City Medical Center has an outstanding reputation for providing EMS services, innovative methods of dispatch and among the best response times in the nation. Our EMS is the only locally based system in Hudson County that is nationally accredited in operations, dispatch and training. JCMC will review any and all bids (RFP’s) which are released and determine how best Jersey City Medical Center can work with the community to ensure the best quality EMS services. Jersey City Medical Center is a not for profit community based organization.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org