The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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October 1, 2013

Lawsuit update: Regenwether takes the stand

Ex-fire chief takes witness stand, defends department's billing activities

DAVENPORT —

UPDATE: Former Clinton Fire Chief Mark Regenwether was appalled and upset when he learned the city was being sued, accused of fraudulently coding ambulance calls in 2009. He had a similar reaction when a year later he learned the city had settled the suit for $4.5 million.

"I couldn't believe it," he said Tuesday as he testified in the city's legal malpractice suit. "There was no fraud and that's a huge amount."

Regenwether was the first witness the city of Clinton called during the first day of testimony as the city of Clinton tries to prove legal malpractice on the part of attorney Michael Walker and his law firm Hopkins and Huebner. 

The city claims Walker's negligence in a 2008 emergency medical services case resulted in the city reaching a $4.5 million settlement with whistleblower Timothy Schultheis and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010.  

Mike Hannafan, from the Chicago law firm representing the city in its legal malpractice suit, questioned Regenwether on Tuesday afternoon regarding the whistleblower case. His questions ranged from Tim Schultheis's personality to the city's process for coding ambulance calls.  

Regenwether testified he met with Walker and other city employees in September 2009 where he learned the city was being sued by Schultheis for allegedly coding ambulance calls as advanced life support rather than basic life support in order to get higher reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid.  

When he learned about the allegations he was appalled and upset, he said. During the meeting, Walker asked then finance director Deb Neels, finance clerk Sarah Nolan, Andrew McGovern and then city attorney Paul Walter questions to gather information about the city's ambulance billing. Regenwether told Walker that McGovern was in charge of coding ambulance calls and was dismissed from the meeting. This was the last time Regenwether saw or heard from Walker, he said.   

Regenwhether also testified the September 2009 meeting wasn't the first time he had been contacted about the city's ambulance billing procedures.  

In the fall of 2007, McGovern, who at the time was in charge of emergency medical services and training, told Regenwether that Schultheis, who was hired earlier that year, had complained about the city's coding procedures. While McGovern told Regenwether he tried to explain the coding to Schultheis, Schulteis was not satisfied. 

McGovern showed Regenwether a scenario from a coding training manual the department used to illustrate why calls were being billed as ALS rather than BLS. The scenario entailed the city ambulance being dispatched to a scene for a patient with heart or respiratory troubles, Regenwether recalled. If the crew did an ALS assessment, but only provided BLS care, the call would still be billed as ALS, the scenario read.  

"It appeared the procedure we were following, the fire department was following, was right off that sheet," Regenwether said Tuesday.  

Regenwher testified Schultheis never contacted him about the coding problems or submitted any of his complaints in writing.

Schultheis and Regenwether did discuss other things, Regenwether said Tuesday: Once, when Schulteis was upset over his shift being switched and another time when Schultheis was seen at a golf course the same day he called in sick to work.  

Neither of those discussions ended with Schultheis being satisfied nor was he disciplined, Regenwether said, calling Schultheis "headstrong" and "not the easiest to talk to." 

Schultheis filed his whistleblower suit in September 2008, but it was kept under seal until September 2009. His last working day with the department was in November 2008.  

Before the suit was unsealed, Regenwether and then-mayor Rodger Holm received a letter on Jan. 28, 2009 from the U.S. Department of Justice informing them the federal government was looking into billing submitted by the city to Medicare. 

At issue was the ALS reimbursement when only BLS services were provided, the letter stated. According to documents that had been submitted to Medicare, almost 99 percent of bills submitted from 2005 to 2008 were ALS bills. 

The rate of ALS billings was not surprising due to Clinton's large elderly and impoverished population, Regenwether testified before Judge Nancy Tabor ended his testimony for the day.

Regenwether will take the witness stand again today.

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