Commissioners today will consider calling on Clerk of Court Charlie Green’s office to audit Lee County’s medical flight program, after its abrupt suspension and revelations the county violated federal rules.
Commission Chairman John Manning said he requested the audit in hopes it will root out who was behind the violations and the $3 million in erroneous bills the county sent out.
“It will give us a third party, fresh pair of eyes, instead of having a debate between two sides as to who was correct and who was incorrect,” Manning said.
Public Safety Director John Wilson and Chief Kim Dickerson were in charge of the medical flight program. They have blamed their subordinate, the program’s former director Rob Fulton, for the violations and bad bills.
The violations stem from the county’s failure to meet Federal Aviation Administration safety requirements, such as pilot training, before billing patients.
Fulton was terminated, along with three pilots, last month. Wilson and Dickerson said they suspended the program and terminated the staff to seek a voluntary accreditation from an out-of-state company. Fulton could not be reached for comment Monday.
While Wilson said he never authorized billing for flights in the county’s primary helicopter in medical emergencies, he was OK with providing them for free. The county’s primary helicopter started transporting patients free of charge in Oct. 27, 2011 — about a year after the county purchased it.
“We started operating the helicopter back in late 2011, to give our pilots sufficient time to train so they could show proficiency with operating that particular helicopter when they did the check ride,” Wilson has said.
The county gave away roughly $430,000 in free flights, before it began erroneously billing patients for them in February, according to documents.
Manning said he requested the clerk of court limit his audit to February through August.
But Green said the audit — if approved by a majority of the commission — will be more comprehensive.
“Once we get into it, we’ll look at all of it,” Green said. “We’re not going to just stop at 2012”
Federal Aviation Administration officials also launched an investigation into the county’s medical flight program. Two federal inspectors are scheduled to visit today, as part of that review, according county officials.
The FAA can levy fines and take other disciplinary actions against the county’s certificate to perform medical flights.
“I certainly hope that it doesn’t duplicate what the FAA would do,” Commissioner Frank Mann said of the clerk’s review. “But to the extent we can get more information, I’m certainly in favor of that, because there’s still an awful lot the commission doesn’t know.”