Fulton ambulance provider in Chapter 11

The ambulance company serving all of Fulton County outside Atlanta says operations will not be affected by its bankruptcy filing Sunday.

Rural Metro Ambulance said Monday that service to the area will continue unchanged while the company works out a financial restructuring to pay off creditors. Arizona-based Rural/Metro Corp., which operates in 21 states, said it plans to cut debt by renegotiating unprofitable contracts.

“We have a solution that keeps our operations moving forward while cutting our debt in half,” President and CEO Scott A. Bartos said.

The company notified Fulton County cities Sunday to alert them of the Chapter 11 filing and to allay fears of disrupted service. Based on industry averages for call volume and fees, the Fulton County contract could amount to as much as $10 million a year in revenue.

The announcement came as no surprise to some of the cities in the coverage area.

“We kind of knew something was coming,” Johns Creek City Manager John Kachmar said. “I got a phone call yesterday from their regional manager saying he feels this shouldn’t affect anything that’s happening in any of the cities up here.”

Rural Metro was acquired by financial firm Warburg Pincus in a 2011 leveraged buyout.

The company has seen revenue decline to the point that it missed a $15.6 million interest payment in mid-July.

Locally, it lost an $8 million contract as the sole subcontractor for ambulance service for DeKalb County Fire. The county has since awarded the service to American Medical Response, which took over Aug. 1.

The company also has come under fire in Johns Creek and Milton, where officials have complained about average response times higher than the 8 minutes required under their contract. In response, the company agreed to give up $528,000 in combined subsidies from Roswell, Alpharetta, Milton and Johns Creek in exchange for an extra four minutes of response time and the ability to raise customer rates.

All but Johns Creek signed the agreement.

Rural Metro has since stationed additional ambulances in Johns Creek and Milton, cutting response times almost in half. Negotiations continue with the cities to allow trained city personnel to transport patients in city-owned emergency vehicles when necessary.

“Every indication we’ve gotten at this point is that the Georgia market shouldn’t see any change in the level of service,” Milton City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said.

Ambulance services in Georgia are certified by the state and assigned coverage areas by regional EMS councils. Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Heath, said the agency will monitor Rural Metro to ensure all license requirements are met.