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New budget would move EMS medical director to City Manager’s staff

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin city management is planning to absorb the office of Austin/Travis County Medical Director Paul Hinchey. According to staff’s FY2014 budget proposal – where word of the action first appeared – the department would bring with it the equivalent of eight full-time positions.


Hinchey’s office cost the city just under $1.37 million in FY2013. The proposed budget notes that these charges will be “back charged” to the city’s Emergency Medical Services Department. The FY2014 figure is embedded in EMS support services costs, to the tune of roughly $1.5 million.


Public Safety Commissioner Mike Levy expressed serious reservations over the move – and Hinchey’s work as medical director in general. “You have a doctor reporting to a lay person,” Levy told In Fact Daily on Monday. “How does a lay person review a physician?”


Levy questioned Hinchey’s honesty to both Council and the Commission over the breadth of the rollout of the region’s new Paramedic/EMT pairing. That move, a major policy shift, has drawn criticism from Levy, who had a hand in the original formation of the current EMS system, and believes that the new protocols diminish care.


He also wondered about potential machinations behind the move. “There is a strategic reason to get the budget hidden and to get (Hinchey) out of the public view,” Levy said.


However, both the head of Travis County’s Emergency Services department, Danny Hobby, and the president of the Austin/Travis County EMS Employees Association, Tony Marquardt, welcomed the move.


Hobby, who voiced support for a fully independent office (the medical director was previously housed in the city’s EMS division), told In Fact Daily that he thinks “it’s a very healthy thing to do.”


According to budget documents, Hinchey’s office “provide(s) comprehensive medical oversight, credentialing standards, infection control programs, training and quality assurance coordination and program development for ATCEMS system providers and to promote community awareness in order to assure the public’s health and safety.”


Levy argues that an outside group of physicians would better perform many of those duties. This, he argues, would allow the city and county to pass along the costs of their work to system users through billing.


Council Member Bill Spelman asked about the move in a budget question submitted on August 5. There, Spelman noted that Hinchey’s office is being moved into the Corporate Public Safety Support program, a division of Ott’s management services apparatus.


That apparatus has steadily grown since Ott took over in February 2008 (See In Fact Daily, August 12).


Spelman asked what the Corporate Public Safety Support program is, and how it might “benefit the department and provide better citizen service.”


Staff’s response notes that the Public Safety Support Program is new for this budget year. “(It) was created to house the three public safety offices that report directly to the City Manager,” staff wrote. Those offices are the Office of Homeland Security, the Medical Director, and the Office of the Police Monitor.


Neither Spelman nor management offered any further comment on the matter.

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