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It's an Emergency; N.J. EMS System in Need of an Overhaul

Hudson County's Emergency Medical Service providers agree with a recent report saying New Jersey's Emergency Response Services system needs an overhaul, but they don't agree -- with the report or with each other -- on how to do it.

State legislators paid nearly $300,000 to Tri Data Corp. of Arlington, Va., for the study, which found New Jersey's EMS system is in a "state of near crisis." The report said it is financially strained and understaffed, partly due to a decline in volunteer EMS workers, and is in need of state-wide standards.

Will Vaughan, vice president of the Hudson County Association of EMS Professionals, praised the report for recommending increasing pay and benefits for EMS workers to put them on a par with firefighters and police officers.

"We have a brain drain," Vaughan said. "We lose folks to police and fire because our pay scales aren't as high."

The report also recommends that municipalities be required to provide EMS - either themselves or through a private provider such as a hospital or a for-hire agency. Bayonne does the latter, contracting with McCabe Ambulance to provide EMS for the city.

"Municipalities spend a lot of money on recycling and garbage removal, yet very little on EMS," said Mickey McCabe, director of McCabe Ambulance.

Hudson County uses a smattering of models. While Bayonne contracts with McCabe, Hoboken uses a volunteer service and Harrison uses its fire department. Jersey City contracts its EMS through Jersey City Medical Center.

The Hudson County Association of EMS Professionals recommends requiring municipalities to create a professional EMS department, serving alongside the fire and police departments.

"The only proper way to provide public safety is through a public entity," said paramedic Michael Alessi, an official with the Hudson County Association of EMS Professionals.

"The type of emergency care that you receive should not depend on the pay of class of the people in the area," Alessi said. "The people that live in Greenville deserve the same care as those in Toms River."

McCabe, not surprisingly, prefers Bayonne's model of hiring private services, like his own, saying it's a more economic way to provide professional, fast service.

However, McCabe said he would support any model as long as it proves to be timely and reliable.

McCabe and officials from the Hudson County Association of EMS Professionals agreed that a more regional approach to EMS is needed, and the association criticized the report for being vague on how regionalization could be implemented.

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