Township Council on Monday night unanimously approved a resolution naming Kennedy Health System as emergency-medical services (EMS) provider through the end of the year.
The move came just six days after the township ended its relationship with Gloucester Township EMS Alliance—a move that has EMS Alliance employees and their supporters calling dirty politics on the Mayer administration.
It came about 80 minutes after a last-ditch attempt by longtime EMS Alliance Chief Tom Eden Sr. to spare his employees their jobs by resigning his post.
"At this time, for the best of the residents of Gloucester Township and the best of my 45 employees, I ask you to reconsider your actions tonight you're going to take," Eden told Council. "You've had me investigated. You've had me arrested (in October 2010, on the charge of driving under the influence)—all on hearsay. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing. I'm just being personally persecuted, and I feel that you guys are going to allow that to happen, so therefore I resign my position as chief of Gloucester Township EMS."
Eden placed his chief's badge on the podium in Council chambers as he addressed the governing body.
The gesture apparently didn't impress Council.
"Mr. Eden, I feel bad for your employees. I feel you let them down and you disappointed them," Councilwoman Michelle Gentek said.
Many attendees spoke out against Mayor David Mayer's decision to banish Gloucester Township EMS Alliance following the discovery last Tuesday morning during a surprise inspection by state Department of Health-Office of Emergency Medical Services officials and township police that five ambulances and an SUV were not registered, with two also uninspected.
"This is a good company. You have a bunch fo great EMTs here," said Paul Loudner, a Pitman resident who has worked at EMS Alliance for a year and a half. "This is disgusting. The political crap—it needs to stop."
Mayer countered Eden's assertion the decision to end the township's relationship with GT EMS Alliance was about politics—a claim echoed by Republicans and other EMS Alliance supporters—or a "personality conflict" between Police Chief W. Harry Earle and Eden, as EMS Alliance attorney John Carney stated.
"It's easy to say that it's politics. Desperate people say desperate things. We have continued to stick to the facts. I have received exactly what I have said I received (from GT EMS Alliance). This is not about politics. It's about providing emergency-medical services to the people of Gloucester Township," he said. "When I put my head on the pillow every night, I want to be assured that the residents of this community are getting the best possible care. I was not assured of that with my dealings with the leadership of the EMS Alliance."
Kennedy Health System will have two staffed ambulances in the township 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a third ambulance in town between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day under the tentative agreement approved by Council Monday night.
Those ambulances will be based at Chews Landing and Erial fire stations, Solicitor David Carlamere said.
Kennedy will not charge the township to provide EMS services, but will instead bill patients it treats and transports, as did EMS Alliance.
The township later this year will solicit proposals for emergency-medical services beginning in January 2013, officials said.
Monday's special meeting brought out a large crowd to Council chambers, the seats of which were about three-quarters filled.
Longtime EMS Alliance employee Linda Willis presented Council with a petition signed by 300 people asking that EMS Alliance be kept on as the township's ambulance service.
Rachel Long, who has been with EMS Alliance for 10 years, was emotional in pleading for Council to stick with her employer.
"This was my only source of income. I am now losing my apartment because of it," she said. "But I am not only losing my job. This was my home. ...This is not just a job for me. This is what I love to do."
Earle provided Council with an extensive report on violations found by state health officials at EMS Alliance's Erial station house last Tuesday—an inspection that resulted in the EMS Alliance being shut down.
The police chief indicated a total of three EMS Alliance employees—one current employee and two former employees—came forward to police over a roughly 18-month investigation to express "their concerns of ineffective leadership, drug abuse, and misuse of funds."
(Editor's Note: Click on the PDF above to view Earle's report to Council in its entirety.)
"It is important to know that much of the information provided by the EMS employees to the Gloucester Township Police Professional Standards Bureau were only allegations," Earle told Council. "The accuracy of some of the information could not be proven or disproven, as the EMS Alliance simply refused to provide the requested documentation despite requests for such information for well more than a year."
"Although I am aware that the EMS Alliance has employees who are competent emergency-medical professionals, the actions—or in some cases, inaction—of their leadership—both their board and their senior leadership—has caused me to fear for the safety of the residents of Gloucester Township," Earle added.
Mayer noted Business Administrator Tom Cardis has been talking with Kennedy officials since last week about bringing on EMS Alliance personnel. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Mayer said, two now-former EMS Alliance employees had signed on with Kennedy, with seven of 25 applicants already having interviews with the health system.
Several opponents of the move contended that because GT EMS Alliance has for more than a decade provided a valuable service to the community, it deserved further consideration.
"As I've heard, no one's had a complaint about the actual operational service of the organization. It's been more housekeeping items, important as they are," Glendora resident Jeff Booker said about 20 minutes before Council President Glen Bianchini declared an end to what amounted to an hour-and-a-half public comment period on the EMS issue. "But they've been doing a good job. They've been doing a great job. And not to be given the courtesy of consideration, to me, is absurd."
Carney also indicated Kennedy ambulances' average response time over the less than six days in operation in Gloucester Township has been double that established by the Erial-based operation.
Several township officials, including Bianchini, took issue with Booker, Carney and others referring to the violations uncovered during last week's inspection as "housekeeping" items.
"Not having oxygen (on ambulances), not having proper supplies, having outdated medications—that is entirely not proper in the health-care field at all," Bianchini said. "To say that that is 'housekeeping' is really not proper in its own right."
Following the meeting, Eden said he told his employees at a meeting last Thursday night "to go to Kennedy."
"I don't want to see nobody out of work," he said. "That's not what I'm about. I put my heart and soul into this."
Eden maintained EMS Alliance is no longer in business due to "backdoor politics."
"There's going to be a lot more to come to this than what you've just seen in there," he said. "You've seen nothing but allegations in there."
Carlamere noted Kennedy Health System has not yet forwarded the contract to the township, adding "when the agreement comes in as we negotiated, then it will be signed in that fashion."