Emergency services provider Rural/Metro eliminated five Knox County positions Tuesday, citing a plan for "financial restructuring" that's been in the works since August.
The director of fire subscription marketing position was eliminated, along with a billing clerk, supply clerk, hospital liaison and customer service representative, said Rural/Metro of Tennessee Regional Director Jerry Harnish. One position was already vacant, he said.
Employees learned of the restructuring Tuesday morning and were assured that no more job losses were planned "at this time," said company spokeswoman Amanda Shell of Moxley Carmichael.
But employee Nicole Hines, who had been a liaison for Rural/Metro with Parkwest Medical Center and later worked in billing and quality assurance, said employees were told at last month's regular company "town hall" meeting, led by Rural/Metro President and CEO Scott Bartos, "that jobs weren't going to be cut - specifically, the department I worked in."
Yet Hines, who had worked for the company for about two years, was among those terminated. A single mother of two, she said she was given two weeks' severance pay.
Shell confirmed that the four employees did receive "full severance packages" but said the specifics were "a personnel matter." She also said the company announced at last month's town hall meeting that "financial reorganization was starting" but did not yet know how certain positions might be affected.
"Rural/Metro (employs) 800 EMTs, paramedics, telecommunicators and firefighters in East Tennessee," Harnish said Tuesday. "This decision reflects a company-wide move to streamline operations and increase efficiencies."
The cuts come less than two weeks after two managers in the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company's Knox County operations abruptly resigned, and another retired.
Jim Carico, operations manager for EMS, and Jay Shipley, coordinator of non-emergency medical transports, resigned Oct. 14, and supervisor of communications David Dowling retired at the same time. Harnish said no reasons were given for the resignations.
The national company announced in August that it had filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, after skipping an interest payment on unsecured bonds, due July 15.
"In August 2013, Rural/Metro Corporate reached an agreement with its lenders and bondholders to financially restructure the company," Harnish said. "This is good news for our company because it represents a significant infusion of cash that will ultimately decrease debt by 50 percent and solidify the company's future health and growth."
He said he expects Rural/Metro to emerge from bankruptcy by year's end.
In July, Knox County renewed Rural/Metro's contract for five years but eliminated county subsidy payments that amounted to more than $600,000 a year. Harnish said Rural/Metro "remains fully staffed."
"Rural/Metro will continue to meet and exceed all of our contractual obligations and deliver excellent medical and fire protection services to the citizens of Knox County," with which it has contracted EMS services for more than 25 years, and fire services for more than 35, he said.
But Hines said employee morale has been low amid the changes. She said that if EMTs leave for more "secure" jobs, that would affect response time, which might endanger the company's contract.
"It's been going into work every day and not knowing if you are going to have a job," she said.