UPDATE 12/9: Employees told 13News Now there will be an informational meeting on Monday morning, but with the shutdown having already happened, they were unsure what the meeting would be about. All of the employees at the meeting declined comment.
When 13News Now called the business they gave the following statement: “The company is no longer in business. At this time they are not giving any explanation for their sudden closure. No further comment.”
Bertie County officials declared a State of Emergency here Monday morning after learning its emergency medical provider has opted to abruptly end service to the county only two months in to a five-year agreement, Mitch Cooper with Bertie EMS told 13News Now.
Cooper said the county officially learned the news at an emergency meeting of the Bertie Board of Commissioners and First Med will cease operations effective Wednesday.
PORTSMOUTH -- A company which provides emergency and non-emergency medical transportation services, as well as contract emergency medical services to some localities, has apparently shut down without notice leaving hundreds of employees without a job just two weeks before Christmas - not to mention potentially disrupting medical transport services throughout the area.
First Med EMS, with its corporate offices in Wilmington, N.C. informed employees on Friday and Saturday that they no longer had a job.
13News Now reached out to a company spokesperson, but have not received a reply. An online report says, "First Med operates from 65 offices, in 6 states, with over 650 vehicles, providing over 500,000 transports per year."
"I literally burst into tears, it was so unnerving and upsetting, especially two weeks before Christmas," said Crystal Bagwell, a First Med employee who drove 2 hours to work in Hampton.
In Hampton Roads, First Med EMS owns and operates Eastern Shore Ambulance Services and Mar Mac Ambulance Services. 13News Now has been contacted by dozens of these employees, who have told us how the local shutdown has affected them.
"The director for the Hampton office called me. She let me know effectively immediately they would be closing their doors and that the company was filing for bankruptcy," said Joshua Beavers, who worked part time at Mar Mac.
News reports online indicate that First Med subsidiaries in other states shut down at the same time.
The company says it provides 500,000 medical transports a year. Many of those are dialysis patients, who are now left looking for an alternative way to get to and from treatment.
"I'm not ready to plan his funeral,” said Maggie Williams, who cares for her diabetic brother on the Eastern Shore.”But if he doesn't get his [dialysis] treatment, that's exactly what's going to happen."
Besides medical transportation, First Med EMS also provides privatized contract emergency medical services in some localities, such as Bertie County. 13News Now contacted Mitch Cooper, Director of Emergency Management in Bertie County, who told us, "The EMS services provided by First Med in Bertie County are still in operation. I have been told operations will continue as normal. I have no other information at this time."
Gathering information about First Med EMS is difficult because their website and social media have been completely shut down since Saturday morning.
We contacted all four local major health care providers to try and determine how they might be affected. Chesapeake Regional Medical Center said they were aware of the situation, but so far have not been affected as other transportation providers have been able to fill the gaps. Bon Secours replied, but had no information available.
According to an email from Riverside: "I understand that First Med EMS is no longer operating and they did provide patient transport for Riverside. Currently, we are using other vendors in the area and we also have our own patient transport."
According to Sentara spokesman Dale Gauding, Sentara has its own ambulance service, Medical Transport, LLC, which is the largest private ambulance service in the state. Only our service and City of Richmond are certified by CAAS, the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services.
Gauding said he believes there were about 30 extra runs for Medical Transport over the weekend and they increased their staff as soon as they heard. There are other ambulance agencies in the region as well, so, it's doubtful there were any missed calls over the weekend, Gauding said.
Former employees of First Med are already leaning on one another for help. A Facebook campaign was established on Saturday to help collect toys for the children of affected workers.