By: Savannah Scarborough, Writer / Follow South Jersey Community Services Intern
BRIDGETON, N.J. — In an NJ.com column published on February 15, Bridgeton mayor Albert B. Kelly demanded change for new emergency medical services (EMS) and fire service models in Cumberland County. Over the years, the idea of mutual aid was prevalent in almost every community in New Jersey, especially those involving fire and emergency medical services. Mutual aid is the idea that when someone in the community needs help, units closest to them will meet the need, and it was known that the favor would be returned to them when need be.
Despite having this giving and wishful idea, mutual aid is flawed. Services would be provided for the community with no questions asked, and the services would pay for personnel, volunteers, or some combination of the two. This model quickly became complicated, especially within EMS.
Mutual aid always provided service, but it never came with specialized training. As the years went on and firefighting and EMS became more technical and demanding, these fields became extremely specialized and couldn’t be provided without those with specialization within them. These fields now require new equipment, new potential liabilities, and a new set of public expectations. This new expectation and requirement needs have led to a hefty investment of money.
Currently, two models are active. They are trying to find a cost-effective way to finance and provide these services, the first model being tried within small communities in Cumberland County. A few townships signed on with Inspira Health and other potential clients. The model’s goal is to pay a low flat rate for EMS services instead of equipping individual squads for full coverage.
There are potential flaws within this first model, though. When small communities have non-government entities providing public service, the specific community would practically have to make the numbers work and make hard decisions, like whether they will have dedicated services.
The second model requires the agency to use the same equipment and personnel to cover multiple communities, not just one. This model would require numerous calculations. These calculations will decipher whether the exclusive staffing and equipment can be provided. The choices made within this model will depend on the public’s expectations when they call 911, their call will be a priority.
These potential service models pose a threat to the workings of mutual aid. If a private EMS provides for multiple towns with the same unit and staff, it would be unknown who would make up any gaps in coverage and who would pay for it. This means that mutual aid should not be an extreme last resort, not the first thing communities think of.
Kelly expressed that he believes that the number one step to help the situation would be to allow Inspira’s Bridgeton Health Center emergency room to be the primary destination over Inspira’s Medical Center in Vineland. Doing this, it would make things much more coherent and cut response times. Although this recommendation may not fit within the models’ calculations, Kelly believes that if priority is service to the public, the possibility should be highly considered.
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.