EMSA audit could put ambulance rate hike in jeopardy
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2013
1/24/13 at 4:38 AM
Complete coverage of EMSA’s financial practices: Find all the stories in Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter’s investigation into Tulsa’s ambulance provider.
The audit of EMSA that was released Tuesday could put in jeopardy an ambulance rate hike proposal the City Council is considering, at least two city councilors said Wednesday.
The audit, which found that EMSA spent lavishly on "unwarranted and extravagant" items, including spa treatments for its CEO and an anniversary party for employees, took EMSA's board to task for failing to stop "abusive expenditure patterns."
"Now with the audit findings I think it is going to be very difficult for the council to approve a rate increase when the management that oversees the handling of that money has clearly handled other funds in a profligate way," said City Councilor G.T. Bynum.
In June, councilors approved an increase in the charge for an emergency ambulance transport to $1,300 from $1,100, effective July 1. But because the investigative audit was forthcoming, they agreed to that increase only after attaching a sunset clause that was to make the fee revert to $1,100 after Dec. 31. Councilors later extended the sunset clause to March 31 in anticipation of the audit findings.
Councilor Karen Gilbert, who twice voted against the rate hikes, said she wants to hear from EMSA officials before she casts another vote on the issue.
"What I would like to see is a presentation of EMSA's budget before we go any further," said Gilbert, who called the audit's findings "insane."
Council Chairman David Patrick said he wants to know what the audit says about EMSA's operations - not just about CEO Steve Williamson's spending.
"What was in the paper, it certainly sounds like an abuse of buying extravagant things," Patrick said. "That is something the EMSA board is going to have to deal with. This kind of abuse you can't just let slide."
But, he added, "if EMSA's operations are actually running smoothly and the rate increase is needed," it is something to consider.
Councilor Phil Lakin, who also serves on the EMSA board of trustees, said the city's options for raising additional revenues to pay for emergency ambulance service are limited.
Funding currently comes from the federal government, a fee attached to residents' monthly utility bills and the reimbursement fees - primarily paid by insurance companies - that are the subject of the proposed rate increase, Lakin said.
"If we can't pay it from some of these sources, then we are going to have to dip into the general fund or raise utility fees, which neither one sounds like a good option," Lakin said.
He said he would prefer to see the increase passed on to private insurance companies.
"That is what the insurance companies are there to do when the injured need to be covered," Lakin said.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett said EMSA - at the recommendation of the city's Management Review Office - has taken steps to improve its business and back-office practices.
"The state auditor did not have concerns with those aspects of EMSA operations," Bartlett said. "I know the board is taking this audit very seriously and digging deeper into the conclusions, recognizing its responsibility to oversee EMSA's operations."
Original Print Headline: EMSA audit could affect rate increase proposal
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313