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Panel approves audit of emergency medical services performance

Thursday, February 28, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Members of the Austin City Council Audit and Finance Committee consented Wednesday to an audit of the Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Service’s delivery of patient service.


Their action comes as the EMS employees union and Public Safety Commission vice chair Mike Levy trade barbs and accusations, and as Levy continues to hammer away at questions about the competence of EMS management.


Meanwhile, Audit and Finance committee members took in yet another audit critical of the department. This time, auditors found fault in EMS handling of employee safety.


“Management has not implemented key elements of an effective safety program, limiting its ability to effectively manage and minimize occupational safety risks and related costs,” concludes a report from the office of City Auditor Ken Mory.


Though both the auditor and EMS chief Ernie Rodriguez noted that the service was making progress in correcting some of what was found – and that the service was working on a key worker safety accreditation – concerns lingered. Mory told Council members that the accreditation would definitely help matters. However, he encouraged EMS management to add a field safety manual recommended in the audit.


For EMS officials, the timing could not have been worse. Audit and Finance Committee members were also set Wednesday to make a decision about broader audits of the department.


In recent months, Levy – who helped found the service in 1976 — has escalated typically pointed criticism of department management to calls for a full audit of its operations (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 25, 2013). Deputy City Auditor Corrie Stokes told Audit and Finance Committee members Wednesday that such an effort would take 2,500 hours and cost between $150,000 and $300,000 in consulting fees.


Instead, committee members opted for what the auditor’s office is calling an “outcomes audit.” With that, officials will evaluate “performance results for key patient services” then compare them against “other comparable agencies.”

Levy and EMS union president Tony Marquardt got into a heated exchange this week as Marquardt accused Levy of using his position on the Public Safety Commission to press for consolidation of his department and the Austin Fire Department. Marquardt called for Levy to resign his Public Safety Commission post, a move that was eventually ratified by a near unanimous vote from the union’s board of directors.


EMS and other public safety unions pushed hard for Levy’s reappointment to the Public Safety Commission after the 2010 defeat of former Place 3 Council Member Randi Shade seemed to leave the vice chair without a seat.


In order to perform the audit, Mory asked committee members to delay audits of on the city’s IT department’s security configuration management and Austin Energy’s customer care department. Stokes confirmed a suggestion from Council Member Bill Spelman that the now delayed audits weren’t “quite ready to cook yet.”


Still, the decision to move the audits would seem to signal Council members’ belief that there is a more immediate need to look at the city’s EMS department. Though not directly, Mory noted as much.

“It’s all priorities,” he said. “You know how many audits we’ve got.”


Spelman moved to delay the IT and AE audits in favor of the EMS review.

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