JEFFERSON CITY • Angry Missouri lawmakers put Gov. Mike Parson’s administration on the hot seat Tuesday, scolding top agency heads for bungling a program that helps get stroke and heart attack patients to the most appropriate facility in the shortest amount of time.
In a sometimes heated exchange, members of the House Budget Committee accused Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams of botching the rollout of a new way to fund the state’s Time Critical Diagnosis System, as well as misleading lawmakers about the status of the program.
“I am pissed,” said Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, who chairs the powerful committee.
In June, Parson vetoed $153,000 from the program — representing about three full-time staffers — setting off alarm bells that the program may be discontinued.
Brian Froelke, chief medical officer of the Washington University emergency medicine service, told the committee that removing one part of the program will hurt the entire system.
“Each part of the system is essential to the system,” Froelke said.
After hospitals and EMS officials raised red flags about the veto, Parson and Williams attempted to play down potential problems, arguing that there will be no break in service.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any change in the services provided by that budget cut,” Parson told reporters Monday. “I don’t think you’re going to see any change in service.”
In Tuesday’s hearing, Williams said: “We just think this is a pretty important program.”
“If you think it’s important, why did it get vetoed?” Fitzpatrick responded.
Williams said the purpose of the veto was to jump-start talks with hospitals about altering the source of funding for the program. He said there will be a meeting next week to discuss a plan that would require hospitals to pay about $1,000 per year to fund accreditation.
“It was never our intent to interrupt services,” Williams said. “We thought this was a viable alternative.”
After outcry over the veto, Williams said he brought back employees who had been doing the job to keep the program afloat.
“We feel we’ve got flexibility within that section to move things around,” said Parson’s budget chief Dan Haug.
Fitzpatrick said the budgeting process doesn’t allow for Williams to switch people into other jobs.
“That is not how the game works,” Fitzpatrick said.
It is not the first run-in Williams has had with the budget panel. Earlier this year, the Legislature cut eight positions in the director’s office after he refused to release information about an outbreak of the tick-borne Bourbon virus.
Williams, a North Carolina physician, was brought to Missouri to run the agency by former Gov. Eric Greitens.
Williams acknowledged he never approached lawmakers with an alternative funding plan when they were crafting the budget last spring.
“That does not make sense at all,” said Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon.
Because of the change in funding, Fitzpatrick said if the agency attempts to continue operating the program, the Legislature will penalize the agency.
“There will be significant consequences,” Fitzpatrick said. “You guys messed up.”
“I think this is completely unacceptable,” said Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa.
The program may be able to continue until the Legislature returns for its veto session in September. Williams said two hospitals are scheduled to be recertified between now and September. Williams said he believes he can delay that process to keep the program from being interrupted.