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FAA inspectors coming Tuesday to review Lee County medical helicopter practices

Sep. 9, 2012


Federal inspectors will visit Lee County on Tuesday as part of their investigation into the county’s billing practices.

Lee County officials said this past week they violated federal rules by billing patients for medical flights without meeting safety requirements.

The Federal Aviation Administration will be sending the two inspectors Tuesday to “review the events that led to the incorrect billing,” Lee County spokeswoman Denise Scott said in a statement.

County officials last month abruptly grounded both of Medstar’s medical helicopters and terminated the pilots who flew them. The program’s director, Rob Fulton, also was terminated.

Public Safety Director John Wilson claimed the suspension was part of an effort to seek voluntary accreditation from an out-of-state company.

After requests from The News-Press, he admitted the county had failed to meet federal mandates pertaining to safety and pilot training.

Those mandates involved pilot training programs and qualifications that were required to conduct medical flights for a fee, according to the FAA. Every similar program in the country must meet the same requirements.

The county sent out $3 million in improper bills and collected $320,000 of that money, according to EMS Chief Kim Dickerson.

Officials will seek to refund the $320,000, Wilson said.

Wilson said he “self-reported” the violations to the FAA on Friday. That reporting occurred about 30 minutes after FAA officials told The News-Press they had not heard from county officials and they planned to investigate the matter.

Wilson did not return calls for comment Saturday.

The investigation is the county’s most recent run-in with federal regulators, according to FAA documents.

FAA officials issued four warning notices to the county at the end of 2010 pertaining to eight violations of federal rules. They involved the county’s pilot training program, record-keeping and maintenance procedures, according to FAA documents.

In response to a request for public records, county public safety officials said they do not have the warning notices,

Wilson said he didn’t know about the improper billings until Thursday.

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