EMSA moves to raise transport fees

As Tulsa’s ambulance service battles a federal lawsuit, the board has approved a $400 hike in the cost of an emergency transport run to make up for increased operating costs.

The increase is 31 percent, jumping from $1,300 to $1,700 for the Eastern Division of the Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA), which includes Tulsa, Bixby, Jenks and Sand Springs. EMSA also operates in Oklahoma City and some suburbs in the Western Division. There is no increase scheduled for Oklahoma City.

The rate increase has to be approved by the Tulsa City Council to take effect. A fee increase does not have to be approved by councils in Bixby, Jenks and Sand Springs.

The last EMSA increase was in 2012.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sherman, Texas, joined a whistleblower’s lawsuit that claims that EMSA President and CEO Steve Williamson conspired with a former ambulance contractor and broke anti-kickback laws and violated the False Claims Act. According to the lawsuit, Williamson used a Texas hospital and ambulance service as a “slush fund” that paid for campaign contributions, travel, gifts, spa treatments and other services.

The allegation could involve millions of misspent dollars over six years, beginning in 2013.

No criminal charges have been filed.

“EMSA’s long-standing practice is to cooperate with requests from federal and state regulatory agencies, including law enforcement,” according to a statement from EMSA. “We continue to work toward dismissal of the civil action. EMSA has a long-standing reputation for providing Oklahomans with the highest quality ambulance service and remains committed to serving our patients and communities.”

EMSA has reportedly spent almost $2 million for the legal defense in this case and one other. More legal fees are anticipated.

Utility customers in Tulsa and its suburbs pay $5.45 a month to subsidize EMSA (unless the customer withdraws) while Oklahoma City utility customers pay $3.65 a month. This fee is supposed to cover out-of-pocket expenses for emergency ambulance service.

EMSA operates as a public trust.