Town chooses RWJBarnabas over Kearny Fire Department to provide ambulance services

After a 3-month fill-in as the town’s emergency ambulance responder, Robert  Wood Johnson Barnabas Health will now perform those duties as the permanent EMS provider for Kearny.

The New Brunswick-based health care provider was selected unanimously by the town governing body last week over its other bidder — the Kearny Fire Department — whose members are certified EMTs

Effective April 1, RWJBarnabas will provide ambulance services for the next five years, unless either party chooses to cancel the contract. It will provide one ambulance seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and a second ambulance seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at no cost to Kearny.

Vendors were asked to submit a “base bid” cost proposal that required one ambulance with two EMTs operating 24 hours a day, operating seven days per week; an “Alternate A” proposal that called for a second ambulance, operating on a 12-hour-per-day schedule, seven days per week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and an “Alternate B” proposal mandating a second ambulance operating on 24-hour-a-day schedule, seven days per week.

An analysis of all Kearny EMS responses during 2022 showed about 60% of all emergency calls occur between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with the balance logged between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., according to town administrator Stephen Marks.

Based on Marks’ recommendation, the mayor and Town Council opted for the base bid plus Alternate A, for which services RWJBarnabas proposed to provide “at no cost to the town” — which it said it could do over a 5-year period — the length of time ultimately chosen by the town.

By contrast, the KFD bid proposal for the base bid plus Alternate A had an asking price of $4,673,080 spread over five years, beginning in Year 1 with a projected cost of $1,235,160, dropping to $709,870 in Year 2, then rising to $809,610 in Year 3, $909,350 in Year 4 and $1,009,090 in Year 5.

KFD Chief Joseph Mastandrea said the department projected higher expenses initially based on paying overtime to staff a second ambulance, then trimming those costs with the expectation that the town would hire additional firefighter/EMTs to maintain a full-time ambulance crew.

Had the town chosen to go with the Alternate B scenario, RWJBarnabas was asking for “$522,882 per year with a 3% annual inflator” while the KFD projected it would need a total of about $5 million over five years to maintain a second ambulance over a 24-hour period.

Mastandrea said while all town firefighters and fire superiors have been trained as certified EMTs for the past three decades and have “provided emergency pre-hospital treatment on thousands of medical calls, the department has “always been limited by our inability to transport which would increase our on-scene times, keeping our units unavailable and delaying transport to area hospitals for our patients.”

Mastandrea said he and his staff concluded the preferred alternative is the Alternate B proposal for two ambulances, 24/7, as “the better use of resources. The Fire Department having the ability to send an ambulance to medical calls would reduce wear and tear on our fire apparatus, keep our units available for fire suppression activities, allow the town to bill for services and reduce the amount of mutual aid the town receives from outside ambulance providers, all while providing high quality care.”

Nonetheless, Marks advised the governing body to go with RWJBarnabas’ proposal as the more “cost-effective” of the two bidders and on the strength of the mobile health care network’s track record since it launched EMS operations in 1982, currently covering 110 municipalities spread over 10 counties.

While the town “has the highest respect and deepest appreciation for the Kearny Fire Department,” Marks wrote in his report, the KFD’s bid is based on “staffing only and does not include any additional costs associated with purchasing, fueling, insuring or servicing the ambulances necessary to run an EMS service.”

Additionally, Marks wrote, while “the cost of running an ambulance service could be defrayed if the KFD billed for (the) service.  However, while the KFD mentioned in its proposal the possibility of hiring an outside vendor to provide third party billing, no details, specifications or costs were provided,” nor, he added any “studies or analyses performed or submitted to determine or estimate what level of cost recovery (from patients serviced) could be reasonably expected to defray the cost of such service.”

Marks said RWJBarnabas draws from four possible patient reimbursement streams—Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance (in and out of network) and hospital charity care funding—to collect sufficient revenues to meet its obligations to Kearny—as defined by Alternate A—without charging the town.

Under the Alternate B scenario, RWJBarnabas factored in overtime to staff a second ambulance as the reason for having to bill the town for the service, Marks said.

In its bid submission, RWJBarnabas credits itself for having achieved a “91% compliance for on time performance and an average response time of seven minutes, 26 seconds” and for having “provided exceptional patient care and superior service to the town” since it was retained as interim EMS provider in January.

As it did as the interim EMS provider, RWJBarnabas will continue operating out of the town-owned ambulance garage on Maple Street.

“We look forward to working with Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health, like we have been doing since January 1 and continue to build a relationship,” Mastandrea said.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.