Fire District anticipates increased billing revenue through new billing service

The Lebanon Fire District Board hears a presentation from Blake Jamison, of Tactical Business Group. Photo by Sarah Brown

The Lebanon Fire District Board approved a contract to outsource its EMS billing service, and heard an update on “fights” with OSHA and the federal government during its meeting on March 12.

Fire Chief Joseph Rodondi told the board that as the Fire District “deals with some financial crises,” including stagnant revenue and increased expenses, the district wanted to make a move to outsource its EMS billing services to Tactical Business Group in Medford. This, he said, will free up staff time to focus on their other responsibilities, but TBG will also be able to process more billing that is expected to result in increased revenue.

Rodondi reported that “seasoned ambulance coders” can process up to 5,000 billable trips per year. LFD currently processes more than 4,000 ambulance transports per year, and an increase of 44% in calls is projected in the next 10 years, he said.

TBG’s founder and CEO, Blake Jamison, helped LFD in a lawsuit to retrieve $80,000 in potential revenue loss from Oregon Health Authority in 2019. Jamison told the LFD Board that, for billing, he uses a system that allows him to better track down patients for payment and capture deductibles through the hospital.

The board approved a contract with TBG to begin in July. TBG charges $30 per claim, and LFD projects to pay for its services at about $121,440 this year. Rodondi reported LFD has been paying nearly the same amount for staffing and supplies, but TBG is better equipped to navigate the complex laws and coding requirements. A position at LFD will be laid off due to the move. LFD anticipates an elevated revenue of $500,000 or more through TBG.

Rodondi gave an update on appeals regarding reported increases in citations and fines issued by OSHA, particularly involving self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) systems. At last month’s meeting, Rodondi shared that several area agencies were fined for “failing to follow the manufacturer recommendations” for the SCBA inspection process that “places a heavy burden on all districts but most notably on volunteer departments and districts with smaller staff.”

Rodondi said that MSA, one of the more popular brands of SCBAs, had stricter recommendations. If agencies continue to be fined for not adhering to every minutiae of the manufacturer’s brand, they may just change brands.

The fire chief told Lebanon Local that the Eugene OSHA office filed citations against LFD for failing to carry a number total over to the annual injury log summary from the year (no fine), a required sticker placed by a third party SCBA inspector was not placed correctly (no fine), and LFD’s process to inspect daily the SCBAs.

“We have an internal SCBA policy and training curriculum, which aligns with the manufacturer’s recommendation,” Rodondi explained. “However, we use a computer program to document the daily inspections. The OSHA inspector felt the abridged check list did not suffice for our daily inspections.”

Rodondi told the board the goal in the appeals process was never about fighting for a win.

“What this was about is the historical perspective of the Eugene-Springfield OSHA office being overzealous in their inspection methodologies for fire districts in Benton and Linn counties. This one inspector has quite a reputation for just being overzealous in his interpretations. This, for me, was a fight for the Oregon fire service, at least our partners.”

While OSHA refuses to settle, believing they would win in court, Rodondi has been able to communicate with MSA, who agreed to change their protocols.

Rodondi also gave an update about the fight for special districts to be recognized by the federal government. Now there are a couple of congressmen who are beginning to recognize special districts as deserving of access to certain grants and they will seek co-signers for a proposal saying as much, he said.

During COVID, LFD as a special district (an independent taxing district rather than a city department) was not able to receive federal funding from CARES Act, ARPA Act and opioid class action lawsuit settlement funds, despite the fact they were on the front lines of COVID and opioid responses. Rodondi urged the board to reach out to their congressmen and representatives to help solidify the push for recognition.

In other business:
◆ Rodondi shared that the district is in the process of updating its website;
◆ Rodondi shared that Measure 22-202 for the levy has been submitted for this year’s ballot;
◆ Chief Administrative Officer Desiree Barker provided answers for the board regarding last month’s financial statements;
◆ Rodondi reported a bill affecting PERS benefits has passed in the legislature this year, which is expected to raise LFD’s expenses by $100,000;
◆ Michael Perkins said five volunteers are moving into the academy through the Resident Volunteer Program;
◆ Rodondi shared the district is changing its badge design to a more traditional fire badge;
◆ Rodondi reported staff held a private flag-raising at the new Station 31 on Oak Street. Staff have begun moving in, but the station will remain operating under a modified response system as they continue to share the space with construction workers.