9 October, 1985
Rescue Squad’s Existence May Be Threatened By Implementation of Fluid Lifemobile Program
Mayor Pike and members of Township Committee listened intently this past Monday night as representatives of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, Helene Fuld Medical Center, and Princeton Medical Center discussed the $340 charge that residents of Princeton can shortly expect each time they use the services of a Lifemobile.
A countywide Mobile Intensive Care Unit (MICU) program run by Helene Fuld in Trenton is scheduled to begin operating lifemobile service throughout the entire county as soon as staff is hired and rigs are purchased. It is this program that will assess the charge for lifemobile service. The program will begin in stages. “It will start in Princeton within the next several weeks,” said Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad President Mark Freda.
While admitting that the state-mandated Fuld program will add additional lifemobile service to Princeton, Mr. Freda said that the charge — which may go as high as $352 — is a definite disadvantage. He asked Township Committee to continue its joint funding with the Borough of the rescue squad’s daytime program.
“This is a very needed pro-gram. There is a lack of volunteers during the day and the paid crew is vital to the community. Without the municipalities’ contribution [$53,000 this year], the day crew could not operate.”
Mr. Freda expressed concern that contributions to the rescue squad will be affected by the county’s taking over of lifemobile service.
“Within 16 hours after our fund-raising letter went out, I received two or three calls asking why people should donate money if they can expect a charge.”
He said that lifemobile calls account for only 40 percent of the Princeton First Aid Squad’s calls. In addition. the squad will have to send out a rig to meet the Fuld rig each time the lifemobile goes out. Fuld’s lifemobile is not an ambulance.
But even if the Princeton rig were to handle the lifemobile call with its own paramedics, and transport the patient to the hospital, the patient would still have to pay the $340 Fuld fee.
The charge — when it come — will actually come from the Princeton Medical Center. PMC must then turn the money it receives over to Helen Fuld. The Princeton First Aid and Rescue never has and, says Mr. Freda, never will charge for any of its services.
Too Many Gaps. Dr. Barry Ultan, director of the Helene Fuld MICU program and chief of cardiology at the hospital, said that the program was implemented because there were too many gaps in volunteer pro grams throughout the state.
He said that the federal government has stated that lifemobile is to be considered prhospital critical care and it must be a paid service.
The state therefore requires hospitals to bill, said Dr. Lilian. “We want uniform. well-coordinated service. If cheaper services existed, people might call them, even if they were further away. This might be very harmful.”
During the presentations, various comments came from the dais.
“It’s inconceivable to charge the patient and take the money elsewhere,” said Committeeman William Cherry. “I have serious doubts about the equity of what is happening,” said Committeeman Thomas Poole To which Mayor Pike added, “I agree. It’s ridiculous ”
At Mr. Freda’s urging. Dennis Doody, president of the Princeton Medical Center, rose to speak. His voice was tinged , with sadness and frustration as he said the state had modeled its lifemobile program after ours, “and when they couldn’t get volunteers, they began hiring our people.”
Longtime volunteer Ed Obert agreed saying, “Our program was very good until the state program started weaning our staff away.”
State ‘Doesn’t Understand.’ Mr. Doody said that the state doesn’t understand the suburban issue and the relation with the community and squad. “This is not where we want to be; we’re hoping for an alter-native way.” He added that he was receiving no cooperation from officials of Helene Fuld.
He noted that the medical center has not yet signed any agreement to bill for lifemobile charges, and has not even been notified of the amount of the charge.
The following morning, reached at his office, Mr. Doody said. We may be looking at the demise of the volunteer system.” He added that the medical center must bill and cannot disobey the state. “But if Helene Fuld wants to operate this program in those municipalities where I have to go to the planning board and the municipal bodies without involving Princeton Medical Center, it won’t work.
“Before they get started, we’ll make an all-out effort to see what we can work out.”
“The volunteer squads have done a heck of a job,” said Mr. Doody. “I have not seen any incidents where volunteers have not done a great job and saved lives If Helene Fuld participates alongside our ambulance, ours is out of business. It’s an emotional issue for us an for the citizens as they get involved.”
Township Committee plans to schedule another meeting in the near future for a further discussion of the situation.