Ambulance Shutdown Leaves Ala. Communities Scrambling

The Hartselle fire chief and Falkville police and fire chiefs have met together to discuss an emergency plan.

June 05--Hartselle and Falkville are without a permanent ambulance service provider after Somerville-based Crossroads Ambulance Service shut down at noon Wednesday.

Hartselle Fire Chief Steve Shelton and Falkville Police and Fire Chief Chris Free met with other officials from each city Tuesday night to discuss an emergency plan. They made arrangements with Decatur-based First Response to provide temporary ambulance service to both cities.

"First Response will provide three ambulances between the two cities," Shelton said. "Our options were limited, and we chose the best one available to us at this point in time."

Hartselle and Falkville officials said they were notified of Crossroads' closing Tuesday morning. Crossroads owner Candi Hayes said she came to the realization about a week ago that she couldn't afford to keep her business open after two years of operation.

The decision wasn't easy, she said. Hayes said a lack of timely payments on claims from insurance companies and government health agencies is the reason she can't sustain her business.

"In all honesty, I don't have deep pockets," she said. "Crossroads was a mom-and-pop business, and we relied on insurance payments."

Hayes said she has not been receiving timely payments from Medicare, Medicaid and insurance providers. She said the financial state of her business started to turn for the worse when the government shutdown happened last October and insurance companies started to increase costs, prompting citizens to drop their insurance coverage.

"Medicare and Medicaid alone owes the company six figures," Hayes said. "They are slow to pay. I have claims from October that have not been paid yet. The last payment that I received from Medicare and Medicaid was so minimal that I knew I couldn't ask my employees to stay and work, knowing that eventually I wouldn't be able to pay them.

"I didn't want to end up owing them money. I can't afford to sustain the company on a personal level."

Hayes' company had five ambulances in service. She said the company's payroll is up-to-date.

"I never like to see a provider go out of business, but we've developed a system so that there's never a lapse in being able to provide health-care transportation for the city," Falkville's Free said.

Crossroads was hired by Hartselle in May 2013 after the city decided to terminate services with County EMS.

"We never had any problems with Crossroads," Shelton said. "Whenever there was a glitch, it was always taken care of promptly and properly."

First Response began answering all calls for Hartselle and Falkville at noon Wednesday. With First Response also providing service for Decatur, Shelton said, he has wondered if the ambulance provider is stretching itself too thin.

"It would be false to say that it hasn't crossed my mind," Shelton said. "But after talking to First Response's manager, David Childers, I feel more comfortable that he will be able to provide services without a problem."

Childers told The Daily he would only answer questions through email and had not responded to any by late Wednesday evening.

Falkville and Hartselle's next steps will be discussed at their respective city council meetings Tuesday.

Briana Harris can be reached at 256-340-2440 or Follow on Twitter @DD_BrianaHarris.

Copyright 2014 - The Decatur Daily, Ala.