The Federal Government says the ambulance company that serves Sioux Falls paid $20 million in kickbacks to an Oklahoma Ambulance Authority and filed false claims totaling tens of millions of dollars. 

KELOLAND News first investigated Paramedics Plus services in Sioux Falls after some residents who called for an ambulance experienced a “Level Zero.” They either had to wait longer than expected for an ambulance, or one never arrived at all. Our investigation found Level Zero took place 489 times in 8 months.  Following our investigation, the Regional Emergency Management Systems Authority made changes to calls for mutual aide. 

Now, Emergency Management Systems Authorities in other states allegedly received kickbacks from Paramedics Plus for bringing the ambulance service into their communities. 

 A U.S. Attorney in Texas joined a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower, who was the former Chief Operating Officer of Paramedics Plus, against East Texas Medical Center and its ambulance division, Paramedics Plus.  

The lawsuit alleges: “Paramedics Plus and ETMC paid bribes and kickbacks to (Emergency Medical Services Authority in Oklahoma) EMSA employees in the form of cash and gifts. Defendants purposefully omitted the terms of the kickback arrangement from all written contracts between EMSA and Paramedics Plus, and concealed the kickbacks from the public.”

The suit goes on to claim that: “Paramedics Plus realized how much money could be made from buying public ambulance contracts; they offered similar kickback deals to public entities in California, Florida, and Indiana. Paramedics Plus later claimed in its marketing materials that it was giving money back to the communities by paying cash to the public entities that award it contracts.”

South Dakota is not listed in the lawsuit. In Sioux Falls, Jill Franken, the City’s Public Health Director, tells KELOLAND News that Sioux Falls Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority, or REMSA, does not receive rebates, gain-sharing or profits and that Paramedic Plus has no profit cap in its agreement here.

Paramedics Plus did put in its own dispatch system for Metro Communications called PULSE and two Metro Communications workers were flown to Tyler, Texas for training on the system. The City and Metro Communications tells KELOLAND News it does not know how much Paramedics Plus paid for the PULSE system that came at no expense to the City or Metro Communications.  Paramedics Plus will not tell us how much the PULSE system cost. 

However, we did find in REMSA’s annual report to the City that the software system is valued at more than $150,000. 

At the time it got the City Contract, Paramedics Plus told the City it was making a $1.7 million dollar investment into the REMSA System in Sioux Falls. The U.S. Attorney in Texas who filed the suit says it’s against the law to pay kickbacks in order to gain access to Medicare and Medicaid funds.

Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston says, “Kickback schemes are anti-competitive, undermine the integrity of our nation’s health care programs, and wrongly prioritize profits over patient care.”

The lawsuit asks for triple damages, citing the False Claims Act.

Paramedics Plus President Ron Schwartz said in a news release that a return of its profits to the Oklahoma EMSA “is a standard and legal practice in this industry — which was publicly disclosed.” Schwartz says he expects Paramedics Plus to be vindicated.