Fees could force New York hospitals to halt ambulance services

Many private New York City hospitals anticipate a stoppage of emergency ambulance services because of an initiative authorized by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to charge hospitals for using such services. The fees--which are expected to run anywhere from $73,000 to $1 million per hospital--are part of the mayor's plan to reduce a budget deficit currently in the billions, reports the Wall Street Journal

"Hospitals such as ours in underserved areas would most likely think of not participating because of the added coast," Dr. Lewis Marshall, chairman of emergency medicine at Brooklyn-based Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, told WSJ. Brookdale's estimated fee would run around $300,000 per year. 

"If a lot of hospitals drop out, then patients are going to suffer because of long wait times," Marshall said. 

A majority of the hospitals that will be affected are safety-net hospitals that simply can't afford to shell out more money due to already tight operating margins, according to Brian Conway, a spokesman for the Greater New York Hospital Association. Hospital executives "were floored by the letter telling them of this onerous new fee," he told WSJ

Frank Gibbon, a spokesman for the city's Fire Department--which runs the services--referred to the fees as "cost sharing," with John Peruggia, FDNY chief of EMS command, providing more specifics in his letters to hospitals. 

"The ... initiative would allow the city to recoup the costs associated with 911 system dispatch and telemetry that are currently borne by the city, namely, the costs associated with the staffing and operation of the Emergency Medical Dispatch Center and Online Medical Control [Telemetry] center," he wrote, according to WSJ. "These decisions are often hard to make, but necessary to ensure continuity of operations." 

In a related New York Times article published last week, the city plans to experiment with deploying two 911 ambulances--one slightly trailing the other--to select calls for people "in danger of dying" in order to try to save patient organs for transplant purposes. The idea is that if the first ambulance team cannot keep such patients alive, the trailing ambulance can quickly preserve their organs. 

To learn more:
- here's the Wall Street Journal article
- check out the New York Times piece