By Steve Tawa

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — Several South Jersey health systems contend that a bill is being fast-tracked through the state legislature because one political powerbroker wants Cooper University Hospital to take over all emergency medical services in Camden.

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Today, two of those health care companies held a briefing on this apparent turf war.

Lourdes Health System and Virtua contend that well-connected South Jersey businessman George Norcross is “manipulating” state lawmakers to give Cooper control of paramedic services in the city of Camden.

Norcross is chairman of the board of Cooper Hospital.

(File photo:  Cooper Hospital, in Camden, NJ.)

(File photo: Cooper Hospital, in Camden, NJ.)


But Richard Miller, president and CEO of Virtua (at lectern in photo), says the changes mandated by the proposed legislation would completely bypass the existing regulatory process, take away 16 percent of Virtua’s business, and give it to a competitor — for no reason.

“Just unilaterally!” Miller fumed at a state house press conference.  “And get people to agree to it!  What in heaven’s name is happening to our process?”

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He then asked aloud, “Why is this legislation being ramrodded through the legislature in less than two weeks’ time?  Simply because one man wants it, and New Jersey taxpayers will have to pay for it.”

Miller says that for the last 38 years, Virtua has provided coverage at no cost to taxpayers, by subsidizing its paramedic service in Camden at a cost of $1.2 million a year.

But, he says, the bill Norcross is backing would provide Cooper Health System with $2.5 million from the state to develop its version of advanced life support (ALS) services.

Miller says it’s the first step of a plan by Cooper to expand beyond Camden into the tri-county area.  Leaders of four health systems with eight area hospitals have signed an open letter to state legislators opposing the bill.

And even if the legislation passes, critics are urging Gov. Christie to veto the bill.

Later this afternoon, a spokesman for George Norcross defended the legislative initiative.

“There have been multiple hearings and certainly ample media coverage of this issue,” said spokesman Dan Fee.  “But Mr. Miller’s comments today crystallize this issue.  He’s focused on Virtua’s profits, and everyone else is focused on the quality of care Camden residents receive.  If you were seriously injured, would you want your first care to come from the region’s only Level 1 trauma center, or a community hospital?”

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