Laid Off Pearl River Co. Ambulance Workers Worried, Yet Hopeful

Dozens of Pearl River County ambulance workers say they're feeling a mixture of anxiety and gladness. They say they only received six hours notice that their employer, Emergystat Ambulance Service, was closing up shop in 23 Mississippi counties Wednesday at midnight. Workers were left without jobs and without thousands of dollars in pay.

Many of the paramedics, EMTs, and drivers in Pearl River County who worked for EmergyStat are now on staff of American Medical Response. That's the company that picked up ambulance service in Pearl River County Thursday morning. On Friday, the new employees were in orientation getting new identification badges and a little piece of mind.

"We're very thankful that they're here to support us all, let us have jobs," said driver Nakia Bernard.

With the joy of the new jobs come the worries that their old company still owes them money.  The 27 employees say Emergystat's paychecks started bouncing months ago. They say while the company has made good on some of the checks, employees are still waiting on a month's worth of pay, which is about 336 hours. The emergency workers say they also haven't been paid for vacation time.

Paramedic Caprica Burge said the employees contacted the corporate office in Vernon, Alabama.

"From what we understand from the home office, they don't know when they're going to be able to pay us. We've contacted the bank where the paychecks were drawn from, and there's no funds at all to pay us."

Now the first responders say they're bracing for financial crises.

"A lot of us are in the negative in our checking account," said Burge. "Some of us have already paid bills and they're bouncing. Our banks are calling us, so we're not exactly sure what we're going to do for the next month."

AMR officials can't offer any answers about the past. However, to provide service to Pearl River County, AMR turned to the workers who've been there.

"It was a really easy decision for us to welcome them to the AMR family," said AMR spokesperson Rick Fayard. "Good EMTs and paramedics are a hard commodity to come by throughout the state of Mississippi. We want these guys. They're familiar. They live in this community. They live in this area. They work with the hospital physicians here every day. It just makes sense."

Caprica Burge said, "I think we're all really excited that AMR is coming in. They've made us feel a lot better. This morning, I think all of us were a little bit stressed, and they've eased a lot of that tension."

Until that first AMR paycheck arrives in a few weeks, workers say they'll continue to worry about making ends meet.

WLOX News called Emergystat's home office in Vernon, Alabama on Friday. Our phone calls were not returned.

AMR officials say they will bid to be Pearl River County's contracted ambulance provider. They expect the board of supervisors to make a decision in the next week or two.