Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County 5: Another Procurement Scandal

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Years of second rate procurement practices and failure to have its Procurement Directors have any kind of certification has left County residents holding the bag once again for tens and maybe hundreds of thousands in legal fees, as the County's recent Request For Proposals (RFP) for 911 Ambulance Services spiraled into disarray. During its appeal to the County 5, Lifeguard questioned Century's forthrightness in its response to questions about prior litigation.

Prior Litigation

Lifeguard questioned Century's responsiveness to the RFP "provision requiring bidders to disclose litigation in the last five years in connection with any contract for similar services." The County required the response to "include the title of the case, case number, court, and monetary amount."

Attorney Gary Perko presented Lifeguard's appeal.

Century responded that it had not been "a party to any litigation during the past five years in connection with any ambulance services contract."

The County RFP also asked Century to include "any instances of major regulatory actions or sanctions against your organization..."

In March, 2015, Century found itself in federal court for alleged Medicare and Medicaid improprieties. (United States of America, Shawn Pelletier and State of Florida vs. Century Ambulance Services, Inc., et al., Case Number 3:2011cv00911, Filed March 11, 2015, Florida Middle District Court, Jacksonville Office). This suit related to allegations by the Department of Justice that Century and others established a pattern of fraudulent claims in Florida counties from 2009 to 2014. Century settled this whistleblower suit for $1.25 Million.

On March 9, 2016, at 1:50 pm, in County Hdq., your reporter asked Purchasing Director Ray Hill if the subject of the Federal settlement had been brought up during the earlier interview with Century.

Mr. Hill answered that "it wasn't."

Your reporter asked why "it wasn't."

Mr. Hill responded, "Because they didn't admit that they did anything wrong."

The federal complaint
False Claims Act press release

Federal records show that Century also agreed to a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA), which was related to the above case.

Wikipedia explains a Corporate Integrity Agreement this way: The CIA is usually entered into contemporaneously with a civil settlement between the Government, and a health care provider (individual and entity), who has been the subject of investigations arising under the False Claims Act as amended in 1986, or who has been found guilty in acts of defrauding Medicare, Medicaid or any other Federal health care programs.  “A provider or entity consents to these obligations as part of the civil settlement and in exchange for the OIG's agreement not to seek an exclusion of that health care provider or entity from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and other Federal health care programs.”  (See: The Office of Inspector General).

Century Ambulance did not mention the CIA in its response to the bid proposal to the County. It appears that at least some on the ranking committee had no idea that it even existed. In a separate conversation with your reporter, County Manager Ben Scott said that the County was aware of it and had a copy.

The County RFP asked for the following:  List any instances of major regulatory actions or sanctions against your organization, including suspension or revocation of any operating license or permit, any sanctions under Medicare or Medicaid programs, revocation of a business permit, or any sanctions by other third-party payers, whether public, private, or non-profit.

Century responded this way:

In May 2015, Century settled a matter with the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Florida regarding a complaint filed by a former employee against the company and four North Florida hospitals alleging certain billing and documentation irregularities. The claims resolved by the settlement were allegations only and not a determination of liability.

At no time has Century as an organization ever been sanctioned, ever had an operating license or permit suspended or revoked, ever been sanctioned under Medicare or Medicaid programs, ever had a business permit revoked, or been sanctioned by third-party payers, whether private, public or non-profit.

Lifeguard showed this slide to The 5 during its appeal. The highlighted information is from Century's response to the County's RFP.                                    (highlighting by the Observer)

Lifeguard claimed that "Century's failure to disclose this important information is a misrepresentation to the County and is a basis for disqualification."

Like the Ranking Committee that came before it, not one of The 5 mentioned a single word about the Corporate Integrity Agreement.

Attorney Perko brought up the Ranking Committee scoring and questioned the reason that some of the scores were changed.

The County 5 was non-pulsed and silent.

County Attorney Foreman

County Attorney Foreman (left) instructs The 5 as County Manager Ben Scott and Asst. Cnty Manager Scott Ward listen. In the foreground, Lifeguard's court reporter makes a record for its next steps in the courts.

In a response to a question by Commissioner Williams regarding the late inclusion of the Century pricing, Mr. Foreman said, "It is highly problematic for the Purchasing Director to ask for or receive pricing information. That pricing as I understand it doesn't actually impact the contract price... I think the staff position was that prices were only for informational purposes. They don't impact the cost of the contract... and therefore Mr. Hill didn't see it as a big deal."

Mr. Foreman continued, "I think the five of you have to decide if you think it's a big deal... The courts are very concerned about creating an unfair competitive environment... It is an issue that would be of concern to the County if we were in fact sued."

Mr. Foreman spoke about the litigation and gave his opinion of Purchasing Director Hill's position. Purchasing Director Hill was MIA.

Mr. Foreman spoke as if he were Mr. Hill, "Clearly they were responsive. They were telling me what was going on and they gave us enough information that when we entered the interview phase we could follow up."

Mr. Foreman added, "I think this board would have to assume that those issues were vetted by your committee."

The record shows they were not.

Com Ronald Williams   (file)

Commissioner Williams asked, "Do you feel comfortable that you could defend this board on any decision they make?"

Mr. Foreman followed up, "On any decision you make?"

Mr. Foreman continued, "... There are technical deficiencies with what Century submitted... You could run into a trial judge that says, 'This just seems too unfair.'"

"If the law suit comes, it comes."

A short while later Commissioner Williams said he would like to throw out all the bids and start over.

Mr. Foreman opined that they could do that, "But that might not satisfy Lifeguard."

Commissioner Williams followed up, "I don't care what satisfy them or not... If the law suit comes, it comes."

Mr. Perko pointed out there is case law that shows that once the cat's out of the bag, "you can't put it back."

Commissioner Williams answered, "We've put cats in the bag before in the 34 years I've been here."

Com Everett Phillips is generally impossible to understand.        (file)

Commissioner Phillips weighed in. From 10 feet away it was impossible to understand what he said.

After some conversation Mr. Foreman told Mr. Phillips, "I don't vote for you."

Then after some more conversation Mr. Foreman told The 5, "I do think there's a high probability that you're going to be sued regardless of how you vote, so I would not let the threat of litigation be an influencing factor."

Commissioner Scarlet Frisina said she would decide based on what's "best for my constituents... I don't want to go to court, but at this point I don't know if we can avoid it either way."

The End Game

Commissioner Williams made a motion, "Mr. Chairman, I move that we take staff recommendation and let the hell fly where it may."

Chairman Nash, "We have a motion."

Your reporter asked, "Can we get that in English?"

County Attorney Foreman asked, "What's the motion? Could you have that spelled out?"

Commissioner Williams spoke, "To reject the appeal of Lifeguard and negotiate with Century."

Commissioner DePratter voted against the motion.


After the meeting your reporter asked the County Attorney and County Manager who is the staff that made the recommendation to negotiate with Century Ambulance.

Attorney Foreman said it wasn't him.

County Manager Scott did not respond.

Columbia County Florida: the legend continues.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On April 29, 2016, a Fort White resident wrote:

I am not a big fan of our current response times for EMS in the south county area, yes they have a unit stationed in Fort White, but it has busy 3 of the 4 times I have called 911, which mostly seems because it has been dispatched to a "special event". I am not sure if this is because Lifeguard is busy with inter-facility transfers (which are huge money-makers) or other calls, my instinct and seven years, most of which as a supervisor, working for a private ambulance service that provided both 911 services and inter-facility transfers leads me towards transfers.

Regardless, the county once again completely screwed up, starting with the Purchasing Director. The instructions on the RFP where simple to understand and were not followed by Century. The threat of litigation from Century is no doubt there, but it is by far the lesser of two evils, as any person with just a hint of common sense can see. They really have little case while Lifeguard has a legitimate complaint.

While I would love to say I am very perplexed by the actions of this commission, I am not. It is almost humorous in a keystone cops kind of way. Sadly this will ultimately cost us untold thousands of dollars of taxpayers money.

Way to go 5, once again.


This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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