Ind. ambulance director retires over 'politics'
"I'm tired of being a political punching bag," he said after two audits revealed a six-figure deficit
By Lou Mumford
South Bend Tribune
NILES, Ind. — No, says Tim Gray, executive director of the Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service, the retirement letter he recently submitted to the SMCAS board isn’t related to back to back audits, both of which revealed six-figure deficits.
Instead, “politics,” Gray said, is the reason he has decided at age 47 to walk away at the end of June.
“I’m tired of being a political punching bag, basically,” he said.
Gray said most of the punching has come from Niles Township, one of six municipalities that own the ambulance service but the largest of the six in terms of population and size.
“For the most part, it’s problems with Niles Township,” he said.
To be certain Gray has had issues with the Niles Township board of late. In November, it voted unanimously not to support a grant-funded study he has touted to determine the feasibility of a merger that would have SMCAS paramedics cross-trained as firefighters and area firefighters cross-trained as paramedics.
Board members rejected the study after expressing concern about the ambulance service’s financial situation and the potential cost of such a merger. Gray and Larry Lamb, the Niles city fire chief and co-author with Gray of a plan laying the groundwork for the study, appeared at the board’s next meeting but the panel refused to reverse its decision.
The next month, the board once again took up a SMCAS-related issue and once again rebuffed it as it voted unanimously against an amendment that would have allowed the ambulance service to obtain a line of credit for capital purchases. The agency’s financial situation, coupled with Niles Township’s 33 percent share of the municipalities’ cost should the ambulance service default on such a loan, was cited as the reason for the board’s decision.
Niles Township Supervisor James Stover on Monday reiterated the board’s concerns about SMCAS’ finances. Also, he indicated the township perhaps would be more willing to work with Gray if Gray would press the ambulance board to amend the service’s articles of incorporation to eliminate voting rights for board representatives without an ownership stake in the ambulance service.
As it is, representatives of Pokagon and Milton townships, which contract for service with SMCAS, have voting rights but don’t share the debt obligations of municipal owners Niles, Buchanan, Bertrand and Howard townships and Niles and Buchanan cities.
As for SMCAS’ audits, Gray said the service, coming off its audit for 2011--2012 that revealed a roughly $393,000 deficit, received its 2012-2013 audit just last month that was even worse. The report showed it $456,296 in the red, he said.
But there’s no missing money, he argued, emphasizing that the funds that came off the books were largely uncollectable payments from Medicare and Medicaid patients. Reimbursements for such patients continue to be a problem, Gray said, pointing out the ambulance service receives just over 50 percent of the amount it bills Medicare patients and only about 25 percent of its billings for those on Medicaid.
A turnaround is anticipated in the current fiscal year, Gray said, largely because he expects only a small capital outlay. There’s “no doubt,” he said, the service will end up about $95,000 in the black.
He argued all is not as it appears with the last two audits.
“It sounds bad and looks bad but it’s assets,” he said. “It’s uncollected capital … that we’re writing off. It’s basically taking money from our cash assets but not our bank accounts.”
Gray said the service has been exceedingly busy, responding to a record 8,495 calls in 2012-2013, and will likely need to ask voters to boost its maximum $20 assessment on developed, occupied property parcels in 2016. The amount of increase hasn’t been decided but it could rise to a maximum of $40, he said, adding that only a portion of the hike would likely be assessed initially.