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Levy continues to allege mismanagement at EMS agency

Friday, January 25, 2013 by Michael Kanin

City of Austin and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service officials find themselves on the defensive as Public Safety Commission Vice Chair Mike Levy continues to level allegations about operational mismanagement at the service.


On Wednesday, Levy said that there is “a malignancy throughout the department” and repeated his concerns that without change poor management could cause degradation in patient care. In what has become a familiar theme, Levy told members of the Austin City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee that costs have “gone through the roof” and that the service suffers from low morale.


Levy also insisted that the city’s EMS partners in Travis County were “about to walk away from an interlocal that has existed since 1976 because the (City) Manager and EMS staff don’t understand how to play with their friends in the sandbox.”


Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald – whose management portfolio includes Austin’s emergency services departments – flatly denied Levy’s allegations “We have not had anyone from the county call and tell me that,” he told In Fact Daily.


The conflict comes as county and city officials continue to work on redefining their EMS partnership.


The Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin City Council recently ratified the renewal of an interlocal agreement that will govern their relationship for at least one more year. However, the two sides continue to negotiate on a hefty set of future changes that could result in a new agreement. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 18, 2013.)


Those changes would be informed by a cost study due mid-March. That study is set to provide officials with a new costing model for EMS service that could lead to what some would see as a more fair allocation of resources. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 16, 2013.)


Travis County chief executive for Emergency Services Danny Hobby told In Fact Daily that the county has had some difficulty in getting cost numbers from the city. Hobby, however, was ready to put all of that behind him, pending the results of the direct cost study.


Earlier this month, the Public Safety Commission called for an audit of the medical and administrative operations of the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service. That brought on concerns from Council members about the immediate availability of the office of City Auditor Ken Mory to complete that effort. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 11, 2013.)


Both Travis and Austin officials told In Fact Daily that they hope to sort out lingering issues during negotiations for the 2014 EMS interlocal agreement. Still Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt looked forward to the cost study. “I think that the relationship has improved greatly and I look forward to the (the study),” she told In Fact Daily.


Eckhardt also noted that city management had promised the Commissioners Court an EMS audit in time for the 2014 interlocal agreement. She indicated that she would like to see the sides “go forward together, city and county, on a third-party analysis.”


Such an analysis has drawn the concern of Austin-Travis County EMS Employees Association president Tony Marquardt. Earlier this month, Marquardt told Public Safety Commissioners that third-party consultants come to such studies with an agenda already in mind – one that Marquardt suggests would promote consolidation or privatization.  


Levy continued to push for the audit in front of Council Audit and Finance Committee members Wednesday. He worried that the city and county partnership is at risk due to building bad blood. Though the committee did not immediately authorize an audit, they agreed to send Mory to a Public Safety Commission meeting. There, he is expected to gather input from Commissioners on what the scope of an EMS audit might be.


Council Member Laura Morrison suggested that already planned audits might cover some of the same ground as a complete audit of the service.

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