Consultant: SEOEMS can make it with changes

Published 11:02 am Thursday, September 16, 2010

Despite a report that details continued deficits in its operation the Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services got another boost that it can continue as a “financially viable organization.”

That was the recommendation of MedFlight, a Columbus-based emergency organization that did a limited review of its finances.

The report was presented to the SEOEMS board at its Tuesday meeting in Jackson.

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Projected patient cash collections for Lawrence, Athens and Jackson counties are expected to come in at $4,198,982, which is a deficit of $276,782. Of the three, Lawrence County’s projected deficit is the least at $20,455; Athens is expected to come in $201,112 under its budget for cash collections with Jackson at a $55,215 deficit.

The report also states that the estimate of revenues over expenditures will bring in a shortfall of almost a half-million of cash.

“The cash deficit estimate assumes that the counties fulfill their contractual obligations in their entirety according to the budget as passed,” the report states. “We recommend that every effort to reduce expenditures begin immediately to minimize this estimated cash shortfall. Recognizing that there are medical crew openings, we recommend closing some of the stations overnight (midnight to 6 a.m.) when volumes are lowest and there is a greater chance of availability for other stations to cover.”

By July 31 there were $5.1 million in overdue patient accounts with $1.6 million of this less than six months old.

“Aggressive collection efforts could result in collection of a large percent of $1.6 million,” the report stated.

The older accounts should either be written off or sent to a collection agency.

“In addition collection efforts should become more robust and include litigation,” MedFlight said.

The organization also recommended the district increase its charge for Advanced Life Support base rate to $695. Right now Lawrence’s rate is $600.

This spring, with massive amounts in outstanding bills owed by the district including payroll, insurance and pension plans, officials questioned whether SEOEMS could survive.

Strategies were considered including selling the communication towers and going to the MARCS radio system. Recently the district instituted an improved method of billing its clients.

Also all three counties advanced the district a total of $385,000 to help pay its bills. However, soon after that, Athens and Jackson county commissioners voted to leave the district by the first of the year. Jackson did state that if the economic climate of SEOEMS improved, it might stay in.

That prompted Lawrence County Commissioners to form an ad hoc committee to analyze contingency plans should Lawrence be the sole county in SEOEMS.

Commissioner Jason Stephens, also on the SEOEMS board, was at Tuesday’s meeting and found the MedFlight report compatible with his analysis of the financial situation of the district.

“I agree with the findings of the report,” Stephens said. “A lot of the points they bring out are recommendations I have been trying to implement. We have been successful on some. As far as Lawrence County, we are on budget. If Lawrence County has to go on its own, we are making its budget.”

The district’s accounts payable have also improved, he said, with less than $50,000 in bills that are over 30 days. Previously bills that were 90 days overdue were in the six figures.

“I think it is going better,” Stephens said. “I think looking at these numbers, it is really a case that Lawrence County will be fine, regardless of what happens to SEOEMS.”

And the prospect of going it without at least one of the original partners is not a downside, the commissioner says.

“It is fine if Athens County pulled out,” Stephens said. “It would make SEOMES stronger.”