How First Med stole the holidays
Mass layoff ruins Christmas for EMTs and their communities
By Arthur Hsieh
Ah, the holidays: they’re filled with fond memories of family, friends, gifts and gatherings. It should be the most joyous time of the year.
Unless of course you start your workday by finding out you’re out of a job. Right out of the Grinch playbook.
Closure with no notice
The abrupt closing of a major EMS and medical transportation company last Friday has rippled through our industry, putting hundreds of EMS providers out of work and causing major upheaval in local communities. Some cities found themselves without an emergency medical provider, while patients who relied upon dependable transportation scrambled to find new ways to get to their clinical visits, or to home.
“This is a terrible situation — dropping a bomb on all those employees right before Christmas,” said Skip Kirkwood, director and chief paramedic of Durham County EMS and the immediate past president of the National Association of EMS Administrators, and Director of Durham County EMS (N.C.). “This is the time of year when we should be taking extra care of our employees. IF this was an absolute business necessity, it would have been nice if some provision was made for employee welfare — severance, COBRA continuation of health care, etc.”
It’s a sad state of affairs when an organization simply rolls down the shutter and locks its doors with no warning to its members. While I’d like to think there was some deliberation among senior leadership in the days and hours leading up to the decision, it certainly doesn’t seem like it. No press release, no spokesperson, not even a website that says, “we’re sorry.” Really? Is that so difficult to do?
“It's hard to believe that nobody at corporate knew this was coming,” Kirkwood added.
Reshape EMS to face challenges
There are bigger issues afoot that we all need to take notice of: financial stability in EMS is fleeting and rare. Commercial ambulance services and municipalities alike are struggling to maintain quality levels of service in the face of dwindling reimbursements from federal and private insurance companies.
Other stories have pointed out the high cost of medical transportation. Meanwhile, volunteer systems struggle to simply keep the doors open with little or no financial support.
EMS needs a major reset. We are seeing some major changes, in the form of community paramedicine and mobile integrated health care initiatives. These new services will add great value in being community health providers, and will ultimately be a significant part of our profession, just as critical care transport, tactical medicine and flight medics have become.
However, it will not be the savior. At the end of the day, EMS will continue to perform a major function — providing emergency care and transportation of the sick and injured. Beyond the reimbursement issues, there must be national dialogue as to what that exactly means to the public. Is it important enough that it must be supported through taxation and community fees? Should the insured demand that their carriers provide greater reimbursement for sudden, catastrophic events?
For over 40 years, we have been hiding from the public the costs and demands of providing emergency health care and transportation. It’s time to pull back the curtain and reveal the issues that have plagued the industry.
In the meantime, visit the Facebook page hosting a toy drive for former First Med employees’ families and help out with the spirit of giving. As Kirkwood said, “Taking care of your people SHOULD be the most important priority.”
At least let’s try to keep the family spirit going for our members this holiday.