A huge ambulance company that carried a half-million patients every year suddenly closed down on Friday, casting thousands of paramedics out of work right before the holiday season and leaving more than 70 cities and towns in six states scrambling for ways to get their sick and injured to the hospital.
Now those employees want answers. Why did the Wilmington, N.C.-based First Med EMS go under with no warning and no explanation?
A rumor circulated among the company’s abruptly-former employees that First Med had declared bankruptcy, but news organizations looking through public records of bankruptcy filings found none as of Tuesday.
The company reportedly employed 2,300 workers, many of whom were still owed paychecks when they received phone calls over the weekend form co-workers telling them there was no point in showing up for work Monday.
One ex-worker filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of all of the employees. The lawsuit says that First Med violated a federal law requiring companies with more than 100 employees to give workers 60 days notice of planned mass layoffs or plant closings.
A mass layoff is usually defined as a minimum of 50 employees, or at least 33 percent of the workforce in larger companies.
The lawsuit demands that the company pay workers 60 days' worth of pay and bonuses, plus accrued holiday and vacation pay and other benefits.
Berte County, N.C., has declared a state of emergency due to the overnight ambulance and paramedic shortage and says it will pursue legal action against the shuttered company. Other municipalities may follow suit.
The company runs ambulance services in Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, under three known business names, TransMed, Life Ambulance and MedCorp. The company’s own PR boasted that it “refused to compromise” on the safety of its patients. But now it has simply tossed all of its patients aside.
According to laid-off employees, who requested that news outlets keep their names private because the company still owed them paychecks, there were no signs that the ambulance firm was about to go belly-up. It had recently posted new job listings, signed new business contracts and vehicles were in the process of being serviced for an inspection that was scheduled for later in December.
One paramedic told a local Ohio newspaper that he was called on Friday to cover part of a shift for another employee, but before he could get to work, he got another call telling him not to bother. The company was out of business — and he was out of work.
SOURCES: NBC News, WITN, NBC4i, Chillicothe Gazette, Wikipedia