UPDATE 1/2/13 @ 6 p.m.
JOHNSON COUNTY/FLOYD COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- We're learning more about a heartbreaking situation for nearly 100 workers in eastern Kentucky.
On New Year’s Eve, Questcare EMS notified the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services they were immediately ceasing operation and no longer providing ambulance services in Floyd, Pike Johnson, Martin and Magoffin Counties.
In the notice, Questcare said it was donating all its assets to Consolidated Health Systems for liquidation. Those assets included 17 ambulances and four licenses, which Consolidated says it plans to sell.
Questcare has given no reason for the shutdown. Adding more confusion to the issue is that on November 17, Consolidated Healthcare filed notice of intent to acquire Questcare with the Kentucky Office of Health Policy. That information was also published in a local newspaper in early December.
Consolidated Healthcare says it never had any intent of purchasing Questcare, and that the filing was simply in preparation for the donation.
"They're just making a simple donation to us,” Maxanna Cook, director of marketing for Highlands, said. “We have no intention of operating an ambulance service or taking over the ambulance service. Instead, what we'll do, when we get the property... we'll liquidate that property and use it for the good of the health system."
Highlands Regional Medical Center says it does not yet know the value of Questcare's donation.
It is working on hiring an appraiser to find out how much the ambulances are worth before putting them up for sale.
Questcare was the primary provider of ambulance service for Magoffin County. The Magoffin County Emergency Management Director, Mike Wilson, says his office was not made aware of Questcare's plan to shut down until two hours before it took effect.
"They hadn't notified the judges office or emergency management," Wilson said. "So we just had to make provisions to get our constituents in Magoffin County taken care of. That's why we called Transtar and called the stated and asked them if was okay for them to provide temporary service and they said it's no problem."
Wilson says there was no interruption in service. He also says Transtar has expressed interest in hiring at least some of the Questcare employees who lost their jobs.
Employees of QuestCare EMS learned on New Year’s Eve -- it's shutting down.
Jeff and Stephenie Burchett are a married couple who've worked as paramedics for QuestCare for six years.
"Now we don't know what's going to happen, what the year's going to bring, where your next meal's going to come from," Jeff said.
"We look for the next paycheck to pay our bills,” Stephenie said. “It's not going to be there."
Jeff says on Monday employees were given a copy of a brief letter that stated the company has ceased all business operations.
The ambulance service, which serves five counties in eastern Kentucky, announced they were shutting down all operations immediately. There was no explanation why.
"I instantly started crying,” Stephenie said. “It breaks my heart."
Jeff has been taking college classes working toward an education degree. Now he's not sure he'll be able to finish.
"I might have to drop out of school with nine classes left to get a bachelor’s degree,” he said.
Back in July the state of Kentucky temporarily suspended QuestCare's license, citing unsafe conditions for patients, and took all their ambulances off the road.
The suspension was lifted in August, and workers say they've had no inclination anything like this was coming.
"I love my job,” Stephenie said. “I really cared for the people I worked with. The company has been good to us. We had good benefits. Now it's gone."
The letter to employees said QuestCare has donated all its business assets to Consolidated Health Systems, which will oversee the liquidation of the assets.
The Kentucky Board of Emergency Services is working with other ambulance services in the area to make sure if people need an ambulance they will be able to get one.
That means about 100 people will start the new year off the job at the ambulance service.
As of Monday afternoon, Kentucky State Police say they began dispatching all calls through Appalacian First Response and Transtar Ambulance.
Earlier this year, the state temporarily suspended Questcare's license -- citing unsafe conditions for patients.
The licenses were suspended by the board on August 2.
The immediate temporary suspension of the Questcare license in Martin County will remain in effect. The hearing officer found that the deficiencies in Martin County continue to be a threat to public safety, according to a news release.
KBEMS stands by the original suspension order and believes there was sufficient evidence that the deficiencies pose a significant risk to public safety during emergency medical transport. The board is considering options to appeal the decision.
KBEMS Executive Director Michael Poynter stated, “The first priority of the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services is to protect the health and safety of Kentucky’s citizens receiving emergency medical care. When set standards and safety regulations are not being met we will not back down and the board will continue to investigate these claims and take the necessary actions to protect the public’s health, safety or welfare.”
According to a statement from the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services (KBEMS), the board's temporary suspension panel has suspended the license of Qusetcare EMS.
The company serves Floyd, Johnson, Martin, Magoffin and Pike counties.
WSAZ.com reported earlier this year on an investigation into the company after more than a dozen ambulances were pulled from the fleet for no air conditioning.
The KBEMS says the suspension was necessary to protect the public's health, safety and welfare.
According to the release, "the suspensions will remain in place until any appeals are completed and the board determines the retract the order or take final disciplinary action."
"In light of this order KBEMS has contacted other ambulance service providers in the affected counties and the board has been assured coverage will continue to be provided to patients needing medical services in these areas so no one goes without urgent medical care. KBEMS will continue to monitor any impacts on service."
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
It all comes after a story we brought you last month when the state pulled several units off the road.
Some of the ambulances were transporting patients with no air conditioning in a heat wave.
Your safety rides on these inspection findings, and WSAZ.com’s Randy Yohe continues his investigation.
Mike Poynter, director of Kentucky's Board of Emergency Medical Services, said the Questcare ambulance fleet inspection, staged at the Big Sandy Community College, was a courtesy.
Poynter says they could have temporarily suspended the company's license after 13 Questcare units were pulled off the road in June -- for air conditioning or other mechanical issues.
Reliable sources tell WSAZ some patients traveled in 100-plus degree internal heat.
“I don't think anyone would want a family member already ill or injured in the back of an extremely temperate vehicle,” Poynter said.
Questcare’s Terry Dossett countered that, saying, “They are checking us out today. Everything is up to par, just like it is supposed to be.”
But is everything up to par?
The local Questcare manager says initially, only six of the 13 units pulled had air conditioning problems.
“The rest had other mechanical problems," Dossett said. "And, if someone rode in a unit without air conditioning, I did not know about it."
Are they now up to par? Inspectors say at least one unit -- maybe more -- failed air conditioning tests Tuesday. Inspectors also checked ambulance equipment, supplies, employee certification and training.
We're told several Questcare employees failed their state training audits, which in many overall cases will involve cheating or lying about training hours.
“It’s not an unusual thing with Questcare; it could be anybody,” Dossett said.
Mike Poynter differed, saying, "If they don’t get their continuing education and training, that's a problem.”
Questcare says if something's wrong or breaks, they fix it. The state says they will determine if this company is meeting minimum standards and insuring patient safety and care.
The state will compile all the inspection results and make a decision on Questcare's future at a hearing Aug. 2.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
But that's the health and safety concern regarding one area first responder firm -- recently ordered to take much of its fleet off the road.
WSAZ.com’s Randy Yohe investigates a troubling hot topic. Questcare operates a private ambulance company that serves Floyd, Pike, Magoffin and Johnson counties in Kentucky.
The Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services (KBEMS) tells WSAZ.com that all of Questcare's county licenses are under investigation for alleged regulatory violations.
Earlier this month a KBEMS inspector ordered 13 Questcare ambulances off the road for failing to meet requirements for internal temperature controls or other mechanical failures. Reliable sources tell WSAZ.com that some units were transporting patients in100-plus-degree heat with no air conditioning.
One former Questcare ambulance team says they left a company that they say often put pure profit before patient health and safety.
Starlie Driskill and John Cruse say, “It doesn't matter if the ambulance has air conditioning, brakes that work, tires, a faulty engine.
There's a set protocol from KBEMS that I have to down that vehicle. And they told me if I did that, I would be jobless.”
Questcare employees refused to comment.
Company President Kevin Fairlie told Yohe over the phone that there was a recent inspection. Firlie said there were ambulance air conditioning issues, he did not know how many. He said it was all routine, though.
“We pull it off the road, fix it and put it back on,” Fairlie said, referring to when something breaks.
KBEMS says in mid June, three Questcare ambulances were returned to service after passing a follow up air conditioning test. That leaves 10 still sidelined
The Kentucky EMS board says sidelining 13 ambulances is a large number. They tell us the formal complaint into Questcare stems from a variety of sources.