Ken Carlson

County Pulse: Agency will offer job-search assistance to AMR billing employees

Stanislaus County’s Alliance Worknet will meet Nov. 13 with American Medical Response employees who are losing their jobs. The agency will provide information about unemployment benefits, applications for jobs through the Alliance, retraining options and other help with the job hunt.

AMR announced last week that it will close a medical billing operation in Salida and lay off about 200 employees. The job cuts are to take effect from Dec. 31 to March 2.

It may be difficult for affected employees to find new jobs in medical billing.

“I don’t think there will be enough medical billing work for 200 people, but they should have transferable skills for jobs in clerical work,” said Jeff Rowe, director of Alliance Worknet. “There is pretty good demand for administrative assistants and bookkeepers.”

Alliance Worknet is a public entity that offers services for job seekers and works with businesses that need qualified employees.

The AMR center on Stoddard Road has handled billing for the company’s emergency services in Northern California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, North Dakota and Idaho. Billing employees told The Modesto Bee they have worked from home in recent years, leaving customer service representatives and other staff in the leased building.

Last week, AMR said the majority of its billing functions will be managed by Centrex Revenue Solutions, a Florida-based outsourcing firm with offices in five states, India and the Philippines. AMR is outsourcing the work partly because of the higher costs of business operations in California, a spokesman said.

Employees said they were told during a company meeting last week some work will be handled overseas.

Alliance Worknet is trying to determine whether affected workers are eligible for the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, designed for workers who lose their paychecks to foreign trade. The federal services include cash assistance for costs of job search, retraining and relocation within the U.S.

According to a Department of Labor online pamphlet, one of the eligibility criteria is a company shifting operations to a country covered by the Trade Act.

People upset about the layoffs suggested that county government reconsider a contract under which AMR provides emergency services in Stanislaus County. They proposed the contract be awarded to a company that retains local jobs.

County Supervisor Terry Withrow, whose district includes Salida, did not foresee any changes to the contract with AMR, which is a dominant service provider in the nation and the region.

“I don’t think we can get involved with telling someone how to run their business with respect to internal cost-savings,” Withrow said. “They are not the only ones moving out of California.”

Board of Supevisors Chairman Jim DeMartini said the contract gives AMR the exclusive right to run ambulance service in Modesto and other territory in the county. A regional emergency services agency makes sure the ambulance crews are meeting standards for response time and quality of service.

“There doesn’t seem to be any problems with the way they operate,” DeMartini said. “How they do their billing is not the business of the county.”

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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