The call Gary Galloway received Wednesday evening from the Mississippi Department of Health made the Newton County Emergency Operations Center director's heart skip a beat.

As of midnight Wednesday, Emergystat, an Alabama-based ambulance service provider for not only Newton County but 22 other counties in Mississippi, would cease all operations. It was Galloway's cue, and that of other county officials impacted by this announcement, to begin feverishly looking for alternative coverage for county residents.

"Emergystat put us in a very bad situation," said Galloway Thursday morning. "This caught us totally off guard."

As in the case of Newton County where Metro Ambulance Service from Meridian, and the Neshoba Ambulance Service joined to provide coverage during the cessation of service, all other counties in Mississippi were able to prevent a total interruption of ambulance service.

"Interim arrangements have been made in all 23 counties," said state Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson Thursday. "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 levels."

Emergystat, in a statement provided by company officials Thursday afternoon, said Southland Health Services, who operates under the trade name of Emergystat, had their professional and liability insurance cancelled due to the company's inability to make a required payment in the amount of $182,000. As a result of this, Southland suspended all ambulance operations in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and Florida. Southland's license has been suspended pending resolution of this matter, company officials added.

Emergystat Vice President Chris 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.

Metro Ambulance Service Director Clayton Cobler said this is exactly the same thing that happened in Lauderdale County approximately 30 years ago.

"The company just picked up and moved in the middle of the night," said Cobler, who sent two ambulance units to Newton County to cover the southern portion of the county. "Metro Ambulance Service is owned by Lauderdale County. Emergystat was privately owned. That makes a big difference."

Galloway said Newton County officials signed a temporary contract with ASAP Ambulance Service and is looking into hashing out a more long term agreement. He said Neshoba County and Metro Ambulance, along with ASAP came to their rescue.

"ASAP got us out of a jam by signing the contract last night," Galloway said.

Kevin Smith, an ASAP representative, said they were just trying to help out in a time of need.

"If they want to talk to us about a more long term contract that's fine," said Smith. "If not, then that's fine, too. We're just glad to help."

Meanwhile, paramedics all across the South were given scant notice they were losing their jobs. Some, like those in Newton County who just hours before worked for Emergystat, were able to hold onto their jobs. Many, many more, though, were left out in the cold.

State officials said there were no reports of residents being without some sort of ambulance service due to the pull out.

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