Central Fla. cities making backup plans amid Rural/Metro's financial woes

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MAITLAND, Fla. - Central Florida cities that depend on Rural/Metro for patient transportation are making backup plans as the company struggles with its finances.

Arizona-based Rural/Metro is struggling with a $700 million debt and has decided not to pay its lenders for now.

The company transports patients for cities like Ocoee, Winter Garden, Orlando and the town of Eatonville.

Even though the company is vowing to maintain business as usual, cities like Maitland that contracted with the company are watching it closely.

Maitland provides emergency response for Eatonville, but Rural/Metro gets the calls to bring Eatonville residents to the hospital.

"If the Rural/Metro contract were to have to be dissolved or be altered in some way and they were to look to us for transportation, we would have to modify out interlocal agreement," Maitland Fire Chief Kimberly Neisler said.

The last time Maitland looked at adding another ambulance service to handle more calls it would have cost Eatonville $1 million.

"So the agreement they have with rural metro is the best one for them in terms of finances, but regardless, we will not let the citizens of Eatonville suffer," Neisler said.

Rural/Metro's financial problems stem from unpaid services from transporting patients who are uninsured or don't pay them back, making up 12 percent of the company's calls, according to credit reports

Rural/Metro released a statement to Eyewitness News: "Rural/Metro continues to take action to align our operations and capital structure with the realities of our business."

The city of Orlando said its Fire Department is having regular meetings with Rural/Metro and is preparing extra staff as well.

The city of Ocoee said it started talking about its backup plan Thursday, which includes putting its extra ambulance into service.