A private ambulance service responsible for transporting half a million patients a year in six states shut down without notice over the weekend, potentially leaving thousands of people dependent upon non-emergent care (such as dialysis) stranded in their homes and scrambling for alternatives.
The company is believed to have declared Bankruptcy, although no Court documents appear yet to have been filed.
First Med EMS, based in Wilmington, N.C., served hospitals and other medical facilities in more than 70 municipalities in Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. It operated under the names TransMed, Life Ambulance and MedCorp, boasting in publicity materials: "We take pride in our performance and the safety of our patients. We refuse to compromise on this."The company's 2300 employees were told nothing about the shutdown, finding only locked doors when they appeared for work. Many first found out they were jobless on Facebook. A local Virginia news station, ABC 13 obtained the following statement from the company's closed offices:
First Med's website was inaccessible Monday, and calls to corporate offices either reached disconnected lines or weren't answered.
“The company is no longer in business. At this time they are not giving any explanation for their sudden closure. No further comment.”
Dispatch services in several cities reported that First Med called them Friday night and Saturday to stop all requests for emergency runs. Workers who were in the middle of their shifts were told to turn around and go home.While one county was forced to declare a state of emergency, officials from other cities served by First Med believed that since much of the company's services involved non-emergent treatment, the impact on overall patient care would be minimal as means of alternative transportation were considered.
"We didn't know what to do," Derek Griffin, an emergency medical technician in Hopewell, Va., told NBC station WWBT of Richmond.
"They told us to turn our truck in, to turn our equipment in. That was it," he said. "It was done so shadily and so behind closed doors."
The effect on the former employees of First Med is another matter.
"I just have me to worry about," said Stacey Carpenter. "A lot of my coworkers have children, and they are the sole providers for their children, and I'm worried about them. And I'm worried about all the patients that we serviced. You know, the ones who have to get to dialysis. It's a life-saving treatment. What are they going to do?"I have personally met hundreds of EMS workers, both paid and volunteer, throughout my life. They are uniformly hard-working, no nonsense, solidly middle-class Americans who perform incredibly valuable and often very difficult, life-saving work. They are the first to an accident scene and often they are the difference between you arriving alive to a hospital or dead to the morgue. They are active in their communities and good neighbors. Many, if not most, have to work an extra job simply to make ends meet as it is not high paying work.
It could be a week or two before unemployment benefits kick in. Many workers wonder how they will make rent or afford Christmas.
There is no excuse for a company of this nature for failing to give its employees and its patients some type of reasonable advance notice if it intends to close its doors. This is the free market and privatization of public services at its ugliest. Whoever is responsible for this should be ashamed.
Update: First Med is the largest provider of EMS services in Ohio. From the comments, h/t wesmorgan1: There really was no warning:
An employee, who spoke with the Gazette on condition of anonymity out of concern it could impede his getting his final paycheck, said there really was no forewarning for the 30 to 50 people who worked for Life Ambulance.And, h/t Mark Lippman, a link to the Equity Fund and its partner described as running the company. More here:
The only possible clue was a recent change to holiday pay, but it was outweighed by other factors such as recent contracts being signed, job postings and ongoing maintenance of vehicles in preparation for an inspection later this month.
In fact, the employee had been called in to cover part of a shift Friday, and in less than two hours, he was called back with the news that they were closed, effective immediately.
In response to a public records request, the Ohio Division of EMS provided The Messenger with an undated letter from FirstMed CEO Bryan Gibson to FirstMed employees.
"As many of you are aware, the company has been challenged for some time and we are unfortunately now in a position where there is not sufficient cash to keep the company operational," Gibson wrote.
He indicated that attempts to restructure the company's debt were not successful.
"The company's owners had funded FirstMed for several years while the company struggled to generate positive cash flow," Gibson wrote. "I have been with the company for the past 90 days attempting to turn the company around and the company's owners tried to restructure the debt with the banks, but could not reach a deal to put in additional capital needed to keep the company solvent."