LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- We're pressing for answers in a MEDSTAR mess. Lee County's MEDSTAR helicopters are still grounded.
But millions of tax payer dollars just flew out the window. It's because a helicopter and the pilots never had proper FAA certification so they were not able to bill patients.
Only on WINK tonight you'll hear from a former pilot who says he quit because MEDSTAR put him and his family at risk.
That former MEDSTAR pilot told us internal troubles with management have been happening for years. He calls it embarrassing.
Ricky Tackett has been a pilot for since the 70s. For 25 of those years, he flew emergency medical helicopters.
But it was Lee County's MEDSTAR that forced him to hang up his flight suit. "I was thouroughly discouraged with the way things were going with management. I could have stayed another three years with MEDSTAR but I chose to retire because I didnt want to put myself any my family in jeopardy anymore," he said.
Lee Commissioners received a e-mail Thursday from Kim Dickerson. She is the county's Deputy Director of Public Safety and chief of EMS. In the e-mail she explains the MEDSTAR helicopter was not fully certified by the FAA. Meaning over the past year, they couldn't have, and shouldn't have billed patients for 79 flights.
It started with the purchase of a $2-million Bell 430 helicopter last year. Dickerson, also says in the email that both the helicopter and the pilots needed to be certified under FAA Part 135 -- which regulates air transport operations -- in order to bill medicare and medicaid for medical services rendered.
When the Bell 430 first flew a medical mission in last October, neither the pilots, nor the aircraft were properly certified by the FAA so during the next four months, 39 patients flew for free without the certification, MEDSTAR couldn't charge for the flights.
The Bell 430 was finally certified for air transport on February 8 of this year. Dickerson said that's when MEDSTAR ordered billing to begin but the pilots were still not certified to fly under FAA Part 135 for air transport.
According to the e-mail, the total amount charged for the Bell 430 was nearly $3 million. The total collected was more than $320,000.
Dickerson says now, they are working to refund for the 79 flights that should not have been billed.
The taxpayers are stuck with the tab. "It wasn't the pilots and it wasnt the medics. It was management that was the problem," said Tackett.
A total of 118 medical flights were made that would never be paid for by patients and insurance. We asked Deputy Director of Public Safety Kim Dickerson why they continued to fly for free.
She admits she knew about it saying it was so the pilots could utilize their flight time for training.
So who is to blame for the loss of millions of taxpayer dollars? Dickerson blames an employee who reported to her; the former director of flight operations, and he has since been fired.