Six months after admitting it repeatedly falsified response times in its reports to Northfield, AtlantiCare announced Tuesday that it will not bid on a new shared Emergency Medical Services contract for Linwood and Northfield.
AtlantiCare announced its decision in a three-paragraph email Tuesday morning — shortly before the 11 a.m. deadline.
Only two EMS providers — Shore Medical Center in Somers Point and TriCare Medical Transportation in Pleasantville — bid on the request for proposals.
AtlantiCare admitted in February that it falsified response times to Northfield in 2010 and 2011. Both cities subsequently decided to not renew their shared services with AtlantiCare — which was already due to expire in August — opting instead to go out for an RFP. AtlantiCare never admitted to falsifying response times for Linwood.
Another surprise in the bidding process was the Northfield Rescue Squad’s decision not to bid. Members of the squad’s leadership have regularly addressed the city’s EMS situation during City Council meetings after the AtlantiCare scandal came to light. The majority of people who spoke at two public forums held to address the situation were in favor of bringing EMS services back “in house.”
Northfield Rescue Squad provided the city’s EMS coverage prior to 2009.
AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center President and CEO Lori Herndon said, “We have appreciated the opportunity to serve Linwood since 2005 and Northfield since 2009.
“We have enjoyed working with those leaders in both municipalities whose goal along with ours was improving the quality of emergency medical services for their residents and visitors.”
Dr. Thomas Brabson, medical director of Emergency Medical Services for AtlantiCare, said in the statement that “AtlantiCare remains committed to providing high-quality emergency medical services to those communities for the remainder of our current contract and will work with the new provider of care to ensure a smooth transition of services.”
As the state-designated advanced life support provider for the region, Brabson added, AtlantiCare will continue to provide paramedic services to Northfield and Linwood.
But Linwood Councilman Ralph Paolone, chairman of Linwood’s public safety committee, still called AtlantiCare’s decision disappointing.
“AtlantiCare provided excellent EMS services, and we had an excellent relationship with them. They were very professional and responsive to all of our questions and concerns during the course of the contract,” Paolone said.
Northfield Councilman Tom Polistina, the chairman of Northfield’s public safety committee, was more ambivalent.
“I’m not disappointed and I’m not happy about it,” Polistina said. “AtlantiCare is an excellent company, but this was a business decision on their part. I don’t know why they made the decision, but we have to move on.”
AtlantiCare spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta said via email Tuesday afternoon that no AtlantiCare staff will lose their jobs as a result of this decision.
Prior to winning the shared services contract in a 2009 bid, AtlantiCare provided only Basic Life Support, or BLS services, for Linwood. Now it also provides BLS services for Egg Harbor City, Mullica, Folsom, and Hammonton, Tornetta said.
AtlantiCare did not answer a question from The Press of Atlantic City on why the health care provider opted not to bid on the contract.
Paolone said Linwood officials hope to meet with Northfield officials by the end of the week to discuss the proposals and want to award the contract by early August.
Northfield Rescue Squad President Lynn Perri said she was disappointed that her squad could not submit a bid for the contract, which she attributed to excessive insurance requirements.
According to the RFP — which EMS providers could bid on to provide services for either both municipalities or each individually — the minimum insurance requirements included a $1 million limit of general liability per occurrence, a $2 million limit of professional liability and a catastrophic liability policy totaling $25 million.
The $25 million catastrophic liability requirement was not part of the previous contract AtlantiCare had with the two cities.
“We very much wanted to take care of our residents again, but it was not feasible with some of the requirements in the RFP, particularly the insurance,” Perri said. “In my opinion this wasn’t written for a BLS vendor. It is over and above what a BLS vendor would ever need, but it is right in line with what a hospital would need. Thank goodness another one was willing to bid.”
Polistina called any insinuation that the RFP was drafted in a way to make it easier for a hospital to win it “unconscionable.”
“It was the insurance that we felt was necessary to protect people in the litigious society we live in … but it was not so high where anybody who wanted to provide EMS services to both town couldn’t afford it,” said Polistina, before admitting it could prevent a “start up” company from winning the bid. “We are trying to keep people safe. I wouldn’t want a ‘start up’ in charge of people’s safety. There is no way I would ever be able to recommend something like that.”
That was not the only stipulation altered in the new contract.
A “critical aspect” of the 2009 contact with AtlantiCare was that the response times for a least 90 percent of the calls during a one-week period must be less than 4 minutes, 59 seconds. Northfield Mayor Vincent Mazzeo told The Press of Atlantic City in February that the falsified response times helped AtlantiCare meet this requirement.
But that standard was also changed in this RFP, lessening the response time burden for “any given 168-hour period” by a full minute to 5 minutes and 59 seconds — thus making it easier on the successful bidder.
“There is no national standard and the national average for response time is about 8 minutes,” Polistina said. “We took a look at the data over the years and come up with a reasonable response time that was still well below the 8 minute average.”
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