By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The union that represents City Hall office workers is filing a grievance against the City of Lockport for farming out ambulance billing work to the private sector.
CSEA is lodging an improper practice charge on behalf of member Barbara Parker, an administrative coordinator in the fire department’s ambulance billing office who’s being reassigned to the accounting department.
Earlier this month, the Common Council hired MultiMed Inc., a private company in Baldwinsville, to process city ambulance bills, beginning around May 1.
Parker is not losing her city employment as a result, Mayor Michael Tucker said. She’s being assigned a new title, along the lines of billing coordinator/junior accountant, and will keep her existing pay rate and grade.
CSEA objects to the outsourcing of work that’s been “exclusive bargaining unit work” for almost 30 years, Lockport City Unit President Vicki Haenle said in a Wednesday media statement announcing the grievance.
MultiMed’s fee, 10 percent of total annual ambulance billings, could be as much as $70,000 per year, and that’s money leaving Lockport, Haenle said.
“Ambulance billing in Lockport is not broken, and it does not need to be fixed. We already have a highly qualified, dedicated city employee, and city resident, working hard every day on taxpayers’ behalf. A private company 140 miles away will not care about Lockport taxpayers,” she said.
Tucker said the MultiMed deal will free up Parker to work in accounting, where her billing expertise is sorely needed. Since late 2010, at least 25 city employees have retired and most are not being replaced. Instead, where it’s possible, support staff have been cross-trained and/or moved to different departments to fill in gaps.
“People are doing a lot more work than they did in the past. Some people are probably doing too much,” Tucker said. Assignment changes “are about making us more efficient.”
According to 4th Ward Alderman Patrick Schrader, the city started looking into third-party ambulance billing service after learning that Parker was set to take medical leave for an unspecified period. It was believed she might be off duty for up to several months, and the city could not afford to let the ambulance bills pile up during that time, he said.
Ultimately Parker was only gone for two weeks, but MultiMed’s offer got leaders thinking, Schrader said. Medical billing work is increasingly complex and the company offered the services of a whole staff that’s kept apprised of constantly changing regulations.
“These Medicare and Medicaid rules change so often, sometimes it’s hard to keep up with,” Schrader said. “Nobody’s knocking Barb. She’s not demoted, she’s not let go. She’s got the same pay, the same grade, the same workplace, just in a different department.”
Haenle asserted the city is making a mistake by taking Parker off of a job that she’s been doing well for a long time.
The outgoing administrative coordinator “has worked tirelessly to keep her skills current, adapt to changes, and to troubleshoot and solve problems. There have been cases where Barb’s attention to detail has caught insurance company errors,” Haenle said. “An out-of-town company will not have the same local knowledge and attention to detail.”