Virginia Health Department admits to Office of Emergency Medical Services multi-million-dollar budget deficit

Posted at 12:37 PM, Nov 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 18:17:08-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Chief Operating Officer for the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) admitted the Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) is facing a multi-million-dollar budget deficit after budgets were created for years that exceeded available funds.

VDH Chief Operating Officer Christopher Lindsay said an internal review showed contracts were overspent, and there have been years of moving funds from one source to another to cover shortfalls with little to no oversight.

His comments came at the State EMS Advisory Board meeting Friday morning.

CBS 6 first reported on an investigation into the situation earlier this year after we learned the OEMS experienced a budget shortfall in the last fiscal year. The budget shortfall forced the OEMS to cancel its annual symposium where many of Virginia’s emergency workers participate in important training that helps them fulfill continuing education requirements.

OEMS is a part of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

Lindsay and State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton attended Friday's meeting and addressed the board.

Shelton told the board the current OEMS budget does not align with revenues and restructuring changes will need to occur.

She could not tell board members when the state’s 11 regional EMS councils will receive funds from the state to pay bills and staff.

“We are working to free up those funds,” Shelton said.

Tracey McLaurin, with the Regional EMS Council Executive Directors, said the councils are “in crisis right now.”

This “poses a serious threat to the existence of our councils,” McLaurin told the board and the commissioner. “We weren’t made aware until August that anything was going on. We are on the verge of financial collapse.”

McLaurin told CBS6 the councils are all non-profits established in the Code of Virginia.

"We work from a contract, we are a contractor for the Office of EMS," McLaurin said. "When we do work we expect to get paid for the work we are completing."

McLaurin said most councils have not received state-contracted funds in many months because they were frozen in August, and some have not received funds for the entire year.

"We have staffs that depend on us for a paycheck. They are feeding their families just like anybody else and it’s difficult for us to look at them, especially right now during the holidays and say, we don’t know if we are going to be able to pay you next year," McLaurin said.

According to council heads, roughly 70 council staff members could potentially not be paid.

The EMS Advisory Board unanimously passed a motion at the meeting requesting VDH prioritize the prompt release of past due payments to the councils for contractual obligations that have already been rendered and fulfilled.

The head of the OEMS announced in October he was retiring from his position.

Gary Brown had been the Director of the OEMS for the last 27 years, and, according to a personnel announcement that was sent to VDH staff, served OEMS for over 43 years.

CBS6 asked to interview Dr. Shelton, but a spokesperson said she had to leave.

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