Texas county officials accuse EMS of misusing resources
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 accused Cypress Creek EMS of having an on-site mechanic repair members' personal vehicles
The Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 clashed with members of Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services about alleged misuse of ESD funds and lack of communication during a district board meeting, bringing years-long issues between ESD 11 and CCEMS to a head.
During the May 21 meeting of the ESD 11 board of commissioners, ESD officials asked questions about a possible investigation into misuse of the on-site CCEMS mechanic as well as CCEMS allegedly claiming property paid for by ESD 11 — such as ambulances — on their audits, violating a contract between the two entities active since 2013.
Tensions are high between ESD No. 11 and Cypress Creek EMS: Harris County ESD 11 expresses concerns with Cypress Creek EMS, searches for new providers
Wren Nealy, chief operating officer of CCEMS, answered the questions after several recordings were played of conversations between journalist and consultant Wayne Dolcefino and Sgt. Joshua Nowitz with Harris County Sheriff’s Office Financial Crimes Unit.
Earlier this year, ESD 11 announced their intention to search for new EMS providers and addressed a lack of communication between ESD 11 and CCEMS ongoing for years, peaking between March 2019 and March 2020.
“This board should have done this (investigation) last February,” Kevin Brost, assistant treasurer for ESD 11, said. “We should have taken control of this. We didn’t. We let our contractor, Cypress Creek (EMS), do it.”
Misuse of on-site mechanic services
ESD 11 alleged that CCEMS employees have been using the on-site mechanic to repair personal vehicles for multiple years, provided the employee can buy the parts, without the mechanic being paid for labor. Brost said this would count as misuse of ESD 11 assets and resources, which Nealy said he was not aware of.
“Were you aware of this policy, of employees bringing their cars or boats or motorcycles to a government funded maintenance facility and being okayed for a government funded employee to work on their private cars?” Brost said. “You’re saying you’re not aware of a policy that’s been going on here for 10 plus years? Think about this.”
Nealy surprised the room when he revealed that he previously had his car serviced by the on-site mechanic four years ago after denying he knew about employees using the on-site mechanic earlier in the meeting. Karen Plummer, president of the ESD board, said she had also been approached with the offer to have her car worked on by the on-site mechanic when she previously worked for CCEMS.
Nealy said the mechanics were not technically working due to the services occurring during the weekends. Nealy said he could not remember who he paid to do the services.
During a recording played of a conversation between Dolcefino and Nowitz, Nowitz also said he was aware of an investigation by HCSO into CCEMS employees buying parts for the mechanic to use to work on their personal vehicles, but said an attempt to solve the issue with CCEMS was left cold.
“Our case was essentially theft by an employee, which requires the cooperation of the complainant organization,” Nowitz said. “We did not receive the requested documentation (from CCEMS), so our case was closed.”
Alleged inaccurate auditing and claiming of assets
When reviewing an audit of CCEMS from 2018-2019, members of the ESD board learned that funds provided to CCEMS by ESD 11 were notated as “donations” in the CCEMS audit rather than ESD 11 assets per state law. Ambulances and other company vehicles were also claimed by CCEMS as their own when they should have been claimed on ESD 11’s audit alone, according to ESD officials.
“You’re selling our assets, selling them and putting them in a general fund,” Brost said.
Communication and lack thereof
ESD 11 previously released a statement on how the department has been meaning to confront CCEMS executive members about misuse of funds and company services from March 2019 to March 2020, but were met with sparse answers or none at all.
Brost asked Glen Henning, president of the CCEMS board if he was aware of attempts to reach him. Henning said he did not receive a letter from ESD 11, but rather a copy of the letter from another CCEMS board member. Henning said all board members were now aware of each problem communicated by ESD 11 and are working to solve the issues internally.
“They have received correspondence now,” Henning said. “All board members have been more informed than in prior months.”
When asked about an ongoing investigation by the Harris County District Attorney into CCEMS’ possible misuse of company services and funds — an investigation initiated by CCEMS — Nealy said he was uninformed about the state of the investigation. Brost confirmed that Nealy’s name is contained on the document starting the investigation.
The DA’s office has not responded to the Cypress Creek Mirror’s request for confirmation or comment on the investigation.
“I was the original complainant that started the investigation (into the misuse of the mechanic),” Nealy said. “After that it was turned over to the auditor and we were not involved with the sheriff.”
The next steps
In order to resolve issues between CCEMS and ESD 11, Henning and Nealy said the CCEMS board is working to possibly start a committee including ESD 11 representatives so there is no further miscommunication.
Brost said the issues between CCEMS and ESD 11 have been boiling under the surface for years, and that the current situation is disappointing.
At the end of the meeting, before revisiting the discussion with Nealy in a closed session, ESD 11 officials stated that several EMS providers had already contacted ESD 11 with interest to receive a contract to provide services in place of CCEMS. ESD 11 commissioners anticipate deciding whether to continue contracting with CCEMS during the June board meeting.
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