Virtua Health, Cooper battle over medical helicopters

Posted: January 15, 2011

Virtua Health is facing off again with the Cooper Health System, this time over who controls medical helicopters in South Jersey.

Virtua filed an appeal Friday challenging a state decision that allows a North Jersey health system allied with Cooper to fly a helicopter team from the Millville Airport in Cumberland County. The service began in December.

Since 1988, Virtua has worked with the state police to provide air transport from Voorhees, serving the state from I-195 south.

Allowing another operator will degrade "the overall quality of care in the region while dramatically increasing costs," Virtua said in a news release.

Virtua, which operates hospitals in Berlin, Marlton, Mount Holly, and Voorhees, filed the appeal with Superior Court. It also asked the Department of Health and Senior Services, which oversees medical transportation, to force Atlantic Health and Cooper to stop until the case is decided.

Representatives for the health department and Atlantic Health said they could not comment on a pending suit.

Atlantic Health owns Overlook and Morristown Memorial Hospitals. It contracts with Cooper University Hospital in Camden, with South Jersey's highest-level trauma center, to provide the Millville helicopter service. The southern counties are underserved for emergency care, said spokeswoman Lori Shaffer. Cooper plans to staff the helicopter.

Virtua and Cooper have butted heads in court before, including a 2009 battle over who could legally claim the most "top docs."

State dispatchers control which helicopter is called for a pickup based on proximity to the scene, said Scott Kasper, Virtua director of emergency medical services.

Virtua's team served 740 patients in 2010 and expects to lose 53 percent of its calls as a result of the Cooper addition, the filing said. Kasper said because the medical team's proficiency relies on how often it can use its skills.

Kasper said the hospital has already seen its volume drop. In the last two weeks, demand has fallen from an average of two or more patients per day to fewer than one.

Contact staff writer Chelsea Conaboy at 856-779-3893


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