EMSA board makes policy changes as result of audit
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
2/27/13 at 4:55 PM
Continuing coverage: Read past articles and view documents related to EMSA here.
Document: View the EMSA code of conduct here.
Document: View the EMSA audit response here.
STROUD -- EMSA board members voted unanimously Wednesday to approve policy changes in response to a critical state audit.
The changes would require a more detailed review of expenditures and would require their contractor, Paramedics Plus, to directly purchase its own supplies and fuel.
The board also voted to create two committees to oversee financial issues and public relations.
The board was also scheduled to meet in executive session to discuss the performance of its CEO, Steve Williamson.
In presenting EMSA's response to the audit, Williamson apologized to the board for the "amount of scrutiny" that he had brought to the agency.
"I know I owe an apology to the board for some actions that could be construed as outside the scope of the public trust."
The 56-page audit covered 3 1/2 years and was sparked by a Tulsa World investigation that began in October 2011 into the agency’s billing and spending practices. The audit found that EMSA spent lavishly on “unwarranted and extravagant” items and that the expenditures were part of a pattern.
Questioned costs included $905 for two spa treatments, $35,190 for floral arrangements, $23,875 for employee fitness classes taught by the wife of an EMSA employee and more than $4,000 each for two catered employee retirement parties.
The Emergency Medical Services Authority is a government agency that oversees a contractor providing medical care to more than 1.1 million people in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and some surrounding cities. Residents in most of those cities pay a fee on their utility bills designed to cover out-of-pocket expenses for emergency transports.
In addition to questioning EMSA’s spending, the audit notes that wording in some EMSA materials to customers could be misleading and makes suggestions for improvements in the agency’s billing practices. It recommends that procedures used to identify patient addresses be improved and that outreach efforts to patients be enhanced.
Before EMSA changed its financial statements last year, its bills failed to inform patients about the utility program. The old bills stated “due from patient” and “due upon receipt,” possibly leading patients to pay bills they did not owe.
In a response to the audit, EMSA notes that the audit “found no systemic erroneous patient billing.”
“However all parties agree that the system of using utility addresses for TotalCare membership is inherently difficult,” the agency’s response states. “Management is currently working with the city of Tulsa’s utility department, along with the MRO (management review) office, to determine different ways this task can be accomplished.”
EMSA has taken numerous steps to improve the agency’s billing process, including indicating on bills whether customers are members of the utility fee program. The agency has also worked with the city of Tulsa to improve its process of gathering accurate address data.
EMSA is overseen by an 11-member board of trustees, eight of which are appointed by city officials in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The board normally meets virtually, with trustees in Tulsa and Oklahoma City discussing agenda items via video conference.
Wednesday’s meeting will be held in Stroud, at the suggestion of trustees who wanted to meet in person.
Agenda items include two executive sessions: one to discuss issues raised by the state audit and one to discuss “personnel issues relating to the President and CEO.” Trustees would then return to a public session of the board and could vote on any matters following those discussions, according to the agenda.
Check back for updates at tulsaworld.com and read more in Thursday's Tulsa World.
Board member Ed Shadid (center) asks a question Wednesday of CEO Steve Williamson during an EMSA board meeting, while Phil Lakin (left) looks on. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World