State-run air trauma services still offline for South Jersey residents
South Jersey lawmakers are calling on the state to restore emergency helicopter transportation in the region. If not, they say, area residents shouldn't have to continue paying to keep the program afloat.
For the first time since the statewide air rescue program's inception, the choppers handling services for South Jersey residents - better known as SouthSTAR - are not doing their decades-old job.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, no grant applications were received to run the southern program for Fiscal Year 2017, so services ceased after June 30. Virtua Health had handled the service until now.
In a letter to Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett, a trio of Republican legislators in the Atlantic-Burlington-Ocean area called on the reinstatement of SouthSTAR, claiming South Jersey residents are "being underserved and treated disparately" compared to residents of North Jersey.
"There is a compelling argument that the SouthSTAR service is more critically needed in South Jersey given South Jersey's more rural geography," read the letter from state Sen. Christopher Connors, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove. "Helicopter transport may be in greater demand for persons requiring emergency medical care on account of the greater distances to medical facilities as compared to the northern part of the state which is more urbanized."
In a conversation with New Jersey 101.5, Connors said these helicopters, which are run in part by the State Police, also provide services other than medical transport, such as homeland security, and South Jersey residents should not be shut out.
"A significant number of residents have expressed concern about elimination of the program," Connors said.
And if service isn't restored in the area, Connors said, his constituents should be exempt from a surcharge on their motor vehicle registrations. Three dollars of each vehicle registration goes to the JEMSTAR program for capital and operational costs.
NorthSTAR continues to cover the northern portion of New Jersey. According to DOH, it's based at Somerset Airport and is medically staffed by University Hospital in Newark.
The lawmakers have not received a formal response to their letter, but DOH told New Jersey 101.5 that residents in the southern part of the state still have "sufficient access to these services" thanks to five private air medical providers.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.