Miss. Tax Commission seizing Ala. ambulance firm’s property

Published 8:03 am Friday, January 25, 2008

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi tax officials have started seizing the property of an Alabama-based ambulance company that halted service on Thursday in 23 counties across the state.

Emergystat, of Vernon, Ala., was the sole provider of emergency medical response service in the counties.

The company owes the state a “substantial” amount of money in unpaid income taxes going back to 2005, said Mississippi State Tax Commission spokeswoman Kathy Waterbury. She did not have a figure on the taxes owed.

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“We always try to get the balance paid, and that includes working with the taxpayer to set up a payment plan,” Waterbury said. “However, when there’s a situation when the institution (no longer operates in) the state, we’ll seize whatever property is left here.”

Cars, ambulances, equipment and other Emergystat assets have been seized, Waterbury said.

Waterbury said the state will continue to seize items owned by Emergystat in every Mississippi county until the department satisfies all debts. If the company’s tax liabilities are not paid off, the items collected will go up for auction.

Waterbury said the state is not seizing items that might be used by the counties.

Meanwhile, the 23 counties affected by the shut down of Emergystat had alternative ambulance services in place Thursday.

“There was no interruption of service in any of the counties that were affected,” state Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson said. “Interim arrangements have been made in all 23 counties.

“We are sending Health Department staff into the affected counties in order to help with the transition, and to aid in the licensing of ambulance services so these counties can return to their normal service level as quickly as possible.”

Emergystat, based in Vernon, Ala., notified Mississippi officials Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. that it would halt operations at midnight. Thompson said officials scrambled to make other arrangements and no one who needed ambulance services was left stranded.

Thompson blamed the company’s problem on “the loss of liability insurance.”

“We have no indication from the company if they intend to resume services,” Thompson said.

The shutdown affected service in Amite, Coahoma, Chickasaw, Claiborne, Greene, Holmes, Jefferson, Kemper, Marshall, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Panola, Pearl River, Scott, Simpson, Smith, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tunica, Wilkinson, Winston and Yazoo counties.

In Scott County, Chancery Clerk Billy Frank Alford said the county owned the two ambulances run by Emergystat. He said the county had hired the employees to stay on the job.

“We will be operating for the next few days as if nothing has happened,” Alford told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We hope to have a whole lot better idea next week where we stand.”

Alford said at least two ambulance companies are wanting to discuss service with the county.

Tunica County attorney Andrew Dulaney said two ambulance companies had provided two vehicles each to the county.

“We were fortunate that we had it covered well. We have more ambulances than we did,” Dulaney told the AP. “It is an unfortunate situation that we were not given more time to act.”

Mississippi is not the only state effected by the shutdown. Emergystat’s operations in Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisiana, Kansas and Florida also ceased at midnight Thursday.

Emergystat Vice President Chris Ingram said the company lost its liability insurance because it had not paid its latest insurance premium.

Ingram said the company has not been able to pay because Medicare has yet to reimburse more than $250,000 for ambulance services owed to Emergystat. He said it may take several days before they receive their money from Medicare.

Paladin Holdings Inc., the parent company of Emergystat, said in a statement the company was under a financial pinch because of an estimated $300,000 in unpaid service payments owed it by GE Capital and more than $200,000 in reimbursements due from Medicare.

“(Emergystat) is attempting to obtain emergency payment from Medicare and seek a financing solution to have the insurance reinstated. Once reinstated, the company will work with the various state health departments on its licensing and operations,” the statement said.