Hidalgo County EMS files for bankruptcy, but says it’s business as usual for its services

The largest South Texas ambulance provider has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to reorganize and restructure its debt, according to a news release from Hidalgo County Emergency Medical Services.

And although the ambulance company uses “Hidalgo County” in its name, the entity is not governed by the county. Instead, it operates privately across the region, serving Edinburg, Pharr and parts of eastern and western Hidalgo County in addition to Jim Hogg County and Coastal Bend.

“This voluntary filing was determined to be in the best interest of the company at this time, and we want to assure the public and our clients that Hidalgo County EMS and South Texas Air Med (will) remain operational with the same and highest standard of care that our clients and the public deserve,” owner Kenneth B. Ponce said in the release. “All services, including 9-1-1 ambulances and air ambulances, will remain in full force.”

Paul Vazaldua, the company’s vice president of organizational leadership and government affairs, likened it to a similar filing by a well-known amusement park.

“When Six Flags Over Texas filed for bankruptcy, not one ride closed, and that’s what we want the public to know,” Vazaldua said. “Hidalgo County EMS, South Texas Air Med is still meeting its contractual obligations in providing 9-1-1 emergency services, in providing transfer services, in providing long-distance transfer services via fixed wing and via helicopter.

“None of our services have shut down.”

Instead, the reorganization will allow the company to “establish a sound capital structure for long term growth and profitability,” the news release indicated.

“Chapter 11 protects the company from vendors to come after assets … (and others from) demanding for payments, and so Chapter 11 does a couple of things — it allows the bankruptcy court to facilitate a negotiation with vendors and the IRS, as well as allows what is called a stay to make sure that everything stays the same.”

With the stay in place by the federal government, the company’s contracts cannot be taken away, unless the company is not meeting its contractual obligations, Vazaldua said, adding that as of Wednesday, those obligations were being met.

Several factors led the company to file for bankruptcy, Vazaldua said, including a lack of subsidies from local governments, decreased reimbursement rates from the federal government and the inability to pull funds from Hidalgo County’s indigent health care fund.

Still, he said, the company, and its staff of about 350, continues to make sure it’s ready for anything, including an inspection by Pharr officials on Saturday as part of its contract with the city.

“We have dedicated individuals that are trained to save lives and that is the job that we will continue to do for this community,” Vazaldua said.