EMSA board reviews audit critical of agency spending
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
1/23/13 at 3:34 PM
Complete coverage of EMSA’s financial practices: View the audit and find all the stories in Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter’s investigation
into Tulsa’s ambulance provider.
EMSA’s board reviewed the findings of a state audit today, with several board members vowing to help the agency regain the public’s trust.
"Clearly it (the audit) was mandatory if we had any chance of re-establishing trust with the public," said EMSA trustee Ed Shadid, a physician and Oklahoma City councilor.
"If there's anything like business as usual or anything like the lack of board governance that’s outlined in this report, then we will not have the trust of the public."
The board’s meeting was held in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, with trustees meeting via videoconference equipment.
The critical audit by the state Auditor and Inspector’s Office was released Tuesday and covers activity from Jan. 1, 2009, through June 30, 2012. The 56-page report confirms the findings of a Tulsa World investigation and makes recommendations for improvements to EMSA’s patient billing system.
EMSA's board members decided to meet in person in Stroud next month. At the meeting, management will be allowed to respond to the audit, and trustees will determine what formal actions the board will take.
Board Chairwoman Lillian Perryman said she is committed to helping the board address issues raised in the audit.
"It’s what we do with this audit that’s important. ... I think moving ahead and regaining the trust of the citizens is what’s most important."
The Emergency Medical Services Authority is a government agency with an 11-member board of trustees who represent the cities served by the agency, as well as the medical profession. EMSA has about 40 employees and oversees a contractor, Paramedics Plus, providing ambulance service for more than 1.1 million people in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and surrounding cities.
Most residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma City and other cities served by EMSA pay a monthly fee on their utility bills designed to defray costs for emergency ambulance service.
The audit by the Auditor and Inspector’s Office, sparked by a Tulsa World investigation, is unrelated to the quality of care provided by its paramedics.
The state audit covered 3 1/2 years and found that EMSA spent lavishly on “unwarranted and extravagant” items, including $905 for two spa treatments for its CEO, $35,190 for floral arrangements, $23,000 for employee fitness classes and two employee parties costing more than $4,000 each.
The audit takes EMSA’s board to task for failing to stop “abusive expenditure patterns.” It found that CEO Steve Williamson spent more than $400,000 during the period covered by the audit, half of it with no board oversight.
The audit advises EMSA to seek legal advice on two issues: $7 million in purchases made for its contractor, Paramedics Plus, and donations by EMSA to charities and associations, which may not be “permissible under the Constitution.”
The audit notes that Williamson’s expenses were “indicative of more serious board inadequacies that allow abusive expenditure patterns and negatively impact public confidence in EMSA’s performance, such as disregard for the organization’s fiduciary responsibilities.”
The agency was created in 1977, and Williamson has served as EMSA’s only CEO. The audit notes that the agency has no formal policy regarding Williamson’s personnel reviews or oversight of his spending. He received his first personnel evaluation in March 2012.
Williamson receives salary and benefits worth $241,000, including a car allowance. A 2011 Tulsa World story stated that his base salary at the time outranked the highest-paid city of Tulsa employee, city physician Dr. Philip Berry, who makes about $188,000.
EMSA receives about $4.8 million a year from a $3.64 monthly fee on Tulsans’ utility bills. Unless residents opt out of the fee, the program is designed to cover out-of-pocket costs such as insurance deductibles. The program is also supposed to provide emergency ambulance service at no charge for those without insurance.
Michelle Allen, a spokewoman for Mayor Dewey Bartlett, said Tuesday that the mayor was reviewing the audit and would comment on the matter after he had read it. Before the World’s investigation began in October 2011, Mayor Dewey Bartlett said he had confidence in Williamson’s handling of the agency and that EMSA “does a pretty good job saving money.”
Read the complete story in Thursday’s Tulsa World.