State expected to release EMSA audit in January
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Monday, December 24, 2012
12/24/12 at 7:26 AM
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State auditors spent more than three months combing through records and interviewing employees of the city's ambulance provider and expect to release a final audit next month.
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said an investigative audit of EMSA will be released in January, following a cooperative attitude on the agency's part.
"We had hoped to have it done by Dec. 31 but they (EMSA) delayed us because they wanted us to wait until their annual audit was done until we came in," he said.
A Tulsa district judge is also expected to rule soon on motions filed by EMSA seeking to throw out a lawsuit over allegations related to issues being investigated by the state Auditor's Office.
The Emergency Medical Services Authority is a government agency overseeing a contractor providing ambulance service to more than 1 million people statewide. Tulsa residents pay a monthly $3.64 fee on their utility bill to cover expenses unless they opt out of the program.
The agency's board voted in May to request an investigative audit by the state, following an investigation by the Tulsa World into EMSA's spending, billing practices and other issues.
EMSA contracts for medical service with Paramedics Plus and the controversy is not related to the quality of medical care provided by paramedics.
Jones said auditors are finishing up final work examining expenditures and plan an exit conference soon to discuss the audit's findings with EMSA.
"We will have a conference with them and solicit their responses and then we will take those into consideration and we will finish our report and release it to the public," Jones said.
EMSA officials "were all in all pretty cooperative," he said. "There was a lot of financial information we had to gather."
EMSA spokeswoman Kelli Bruer said auditors visited EMSA's Oklahoma City and Tulsa offices from September through December. They reviewed patient billing information, purchases, expense reports and policies and procedures, she said.
Bruer said the auditors talked to EMSA employees, including "multiple people from administration, accounting, patient billing and possibly others." She said EMSA CEO Steve Williamson and other top administrators were interviewed, as well as board members.
The World's investigation uncovered EMSA expenditures such as a $999 Christmas tree, a $3,200 charcoal grill, office chairs costing more than $1,000 apiece and a $9,000 area rug. The agency also threw a $3,000 retirement party for an executive who continued to work for EMSA as a consultant, records show.
The World and The Oklahoman also investigated EMSA's travel spending. Records showed Williamson incurred more than $150,000 in travel costs from 2009 through the end of last year that were billed to EMSA.
Much of the travel spending was related to Williamson's role as president of the American Ambulance Association, an industry group. Williamson's charges included numerous first-class flights costing up to $2,700 round trip. He had a 1984 doctor's note stating he could only fly first class due to health issues, including knee replacement surgery.
Williamson has said the matter was reviewed by EMSA's board in 1984 and he had not been asked to provide further proof that he needs to fly first class.
Williamson made multiple trips to Washington, D.C., as part of his American Ambulance Association duties. Expenses during those trips included a $500-a-night stay at the Fairmont Hotel in D.C.
Williamson said during a meeting last week he is now "past president" of the organization and had been asked by the new president to continue involvement in "national strategic planning."
He said in an email to the World he will need to attend at least four board meetings in Washington as part of his role.
Williamson said his role in AAA is important "as Congress determines a plan for reimbursing the ambulance industry" under universal coverage.
EMSA officials have denied spending money improperly. New policies regarding limits on travel and other types of expenditures have been put into place.
A World review of lawsuits filed by EMSA in Tulsa District Court found 124 people who lived at addresses that city records showed were included in the monthly utility program.
EMSA claims that of those cases, about half involved addresses that EMSA records show had either opted out on the date of service or could not be located in EMSA's database.
The remainder of the patients did not contact EMSA after repeated attempts to obtain insurance information or received insurance payments but did not send them to EMSA as required, EMSA claims.
A lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed in Tulsa District Court by three EMSA patients. EMSA's law firm, Works & Lentz, was later added as a defendant.
EMSA and the firm have filed motions to dismiss the case and have denied all of its claims.
Attorney Bob Pezold, who filed the suit on behalf of the patients, said a judge overseeing the case has had several motions by EMSA under advisement since October or November.
Pezold said he expects a ruling within the next 60 days on the motions.
The suit alleges EMSA improperly billed patients for services that should have been covered under the TotalCare program. Residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma City and surrounding cities pay a monthly fee on their water bills in exchange for no out-of-pocket expenses for ambulance service under the program.
The suit claims the firm sued participants in the utility program and obtained judgments against some, even though it knew or should have known the patients were members of the program.
Some EMSA customers have received refunds and lawsuits have been dismissed against others, records show.
A review of EMSA by the city's Management Review Office, released in August, found a rudimentary system of verifying patient addresses, risky storage of patient credit card information, a high rate of cases turned over to the agency's law firm and inefficient practices throughout the organization.
Several new members have been added this year to EMSA's 11-member board, including Tulsa City Councilor Phil Lakin.
Original Print Headline: Results of state EMSA audit due next month
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306