Audit: Austin-Travis County EMS at risk of fraud, abuse

ATCEMS Ambulance

AUSTIN (KXAN) -  A newly completed audit of Austin-Travis County EMS finds its medical supply warehouse is ripe for fraud and abuse.

The audit, conducted by the city’s in-house audit team in 2012-13 found there were no formal written policies for tracking inventory including syringes, ibuprofen and catheters. Narcotics are more carefully managed and stored separately.

Stocking the capital city’s local EMS service with disposable medical supplies is a $2.2 million proposition every year.

At any given time, nearly a million dollars’ worth of supplies can be stored at its East Austin warehouse.

Ensuring those supplies don’t go missing sounds like basic inventory management. But the audit revealed Austin’s publicly-funded EMS service has:

  • no written policy for inventory tracking
  • discrepancies in 2012-2013 in actual inventory and what was listed
  • no system to account for possible losses

Part of the problem stems from the practice of paramedics returning unused items like blankets. They’re not recorded as being back in inventory. They’re put in a bin for other agencies to use such as Austin Fire Department, or the staff from Travis County Emergency Services Districts which serve unincorporated areas.

atcemsMore worrisome: the audit found there’s no system to keep track medical supplies and medications that are thrown out because they’re expired, damaged or contaminated.

At the end of last year, the city’s comptroller’s office got on top of the problem and reduced the balance of the EMS inventory by more than $300,000.

On the long term fix, EMS management agreed with the audit recommendations.

By the end of this month, a response memo from EMS management to the City Audit Department said a newly formed EMS staff team will look at the inventory control issues.   By June, those staff plans to have a new list of procedures.

But EMS managers say any computerized inventory control will be based on funding. A request has been made to the city’s IT business plan process.

How much would one cost? Guardian EMS, the private ambulance provider serving Bastrop County recently installed an inventory control system. While a specific cost was not formally revealed, it’s estimated to run the company less than $500,000.

In November, a KXAN Investigation of Guardian EMS found ambulances failing state inspections for not having adequate medications on board.

Guardian EMS managers say they solved that problem with the computerized system. It orders supplies where medics sign items out by scanning a bar code. The system tracks items when they run low and can even re-order supplies automatically, including in Guardian EMS’ case, fresh tires and other mechanical items for the ambulances themselves.

Austin-Travis County EMS has been audited four times in the past two years for topics such as worker safety and collections control, according to the most recent document posted here.

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