Monday, June 29, 2015

In South Jersey, Boss George Norcross uses political muscle to advance "his" hospital


Since Boss George already controls the hospital, he doesn't
see why he shouldn't control the paramedic services too.

by Jersey Jim

Camden-based Democratic machine boss George E. Norcross III and his Christiecrats have been aiding and abetting the state’s disastrous Republican Governor, Chris Christie, in all sorts of political skullduggery. Back in 2011, pensions and benefits for state employees were gutted when the New Jersey Legislature passed Christie-backed “reform” legislation by 3-2 margins, in spite of the Democrats’ 3-2 majority in both the Senate and the Assembly. But one-third of the nominal Democrats in the Legislature voted with the GOP—almost all of them from South Jersey districts directly controlled by the Norcross machine. (The other few answer to Essex County machine boss Joe DiVincenzo, an ally of Norcross and Christie.)

More recently, DWT has reported how two Norcross operatives, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and Cape May Sen. Jeff Van Drew (who is being recruited by the DCCC), secured the appointment of an utterly unqualified Van Drew ally to the state’s Pinelands Commission for the sole purpose of getting approval for a natural gas pipeline though the unique and environmentally sensitive Pinelands.

Now Norcross, who chairs the Cooper Health Board of Trustees, wants a monopoly on paramedic services for that hospital. Here’s a Newark Star-Ledger editorial published the day of the scheduled vote, last Thursday:
Vote no on this Norcross power grab
Star-Ledger Editorial, June 25, 2015

George Norcross, New Jersey's heavyweight political boss, is trying to seize control of paramedic services in Camden from a South Jersey hospital chain and give it to Cooper Health, the hospital he oversees.

With minimal discussion, the final vote is set for Thursday. Lawmakers in both houses should grow a backbone and vote no. This is a shameless power grab — classic machine politics, made possible by a lapdog Legislature.

While the bill doesn't explicitly mention Cooper, Norcross' fingerprints are all over it. This legislation would give any level one trauma center in the state first dibs on providing advanced life support and paramedic services, but Cooper University Hospital is the only one that doesn't provide them currently.

State law has set up a competitive process to award these services, and this legislative grab short-circuits that. Worse, the Norcross forces are rushing to cram this through the legislature without having made the case on the merits. How can the Legislature make this call without fully vetting the costs and benefits? They are responding to a directive from the back room. You can almost smell the cigar smoke.

Virtua Health, a hospital chain in suburban Camden County — and a longtime rival of Cooper — now provides the advanced life support services in and around Camden. It doesn't get paid for doing this and doesn't steer trauma patients to its own hospitals. Most patients already end up at Cooper.

Assemblyman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson, (D-Camden), the Norcross ally who sponsored this bill, argues that even though Virtua has an unblemished record, Cooper is better equipped to provide paramedic services, because its paramedics will provide follow-up care after patients are discharged. But why not have a visiting nurse program do that? Why paramedics?

At the last minute Wednesday, the Norcross team charged that Virtua's response time in Camden is poor. That is exactly the sort of question that needs scrutiny before any vote is cast.

Normally, there has to be a quantifiable reason for the state to make a change like this. Cooper's movement to take over both emergency medical and advanced life support services could cost taxpayers unnecessary money, by giving it $2.5 million in public dollars to equip itself to provide services that already exist.

This end run around the state's licensing process could create mischief on health policy more broadly. Who knows where it will end? What if a power broker wants a cardiac surgery center for another local hospital? If the Legislature micro-manges these things in Camden, then why not in Bergen?

The answer will be simple: George Norcross.
Despite the Star-Ledger's forceful appeal, the bill was passed by both the Senate and the Assembly on Thursday, and sent to Governor Christie for his signature. Considering how closely Christie and Sweeney work together, it’s hard to imagine Christie vetoing it. Just another example of corruption and cronyism, New Jersey-style.

This is just one more example of the corrupt Norcross machine at work—and just one more example of why we need a change.

The Norcross machine installed Boss George’s brother in New Jersey’s First Congressional District seat last year, after former Rep. Rob Andrews resigned to avoid ethics charges. Little Brother Donnie’s first vote last year, when he filled Andrews’ unexpired term, was in favor of Keystone XL. New Jersey can certainly do better.

And there is a better candidate for that seat. Alex Law, a young progressive, is running against Donald Norcross next year. If you'd like to help Alex replace Norcross, you can do that through the Blue America Act Blue page.

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