The Acadian Ambulance Story: Insights From the President

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The Acadian Ambulance Story: Insights From the President

News Aug 10, 2017

Acadian Ambulance was founded more than 45 years ago and has grown into one of the largest private ambulance services in the nation, as well as one of the largest employee-owned companies in the United States.

Acadian CEO Richard Zuschlag, recipient of the 2016 Pinnacle Lifetime Achievement Award, was scheduled to deliver "Leadership Lessons from Acadian's Success" at the Pinnacle EMS conference in Boca Raton, Fla. Thursday morning Aug. 10. Zuschlag was ill, so the company's president Jerry Romero stepped in to share the company's history and some of the reasons behind its success.

Acadian started with just eight employees in 1971 and now encompasses six divisions, including Air Med, Acadian Total Security, Executive Aircraft Charter Services, National EMS Academy and Safety Management Systems, Romero said.

Diversification provides financial stability and opportunity, said Romero, and provides varied career paths for employees. The ambulance division is still responsible for 74% of the company's overall revenue.

"We didn't really have any plans in the early days of expansion," Romero said, adding there wasn't a strategic vision or plans to become a large company. But Acadian would gradually expand into one parish at a time with a commitment to company values such as a focus on governmental relations at all levels, maximizing collections, and leveraging core strengths such as communications, logistics and trainings.

"We're never perfect but we're trying to get a little bit better each day," Romero said.

"The best thing our company has ever done," said Romero of the employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). The company is now 80% owned by its ESOP. 401k contributions up to 4% of an employee's earnings are matched with shares of Acadian stock. This motivates employees to both save and make the company profitable.

The plan is not without its drawbacks, however. The business valuation may be lower than otherwise in the case of a third-party sale, and there are significant compliance requirements dictated by the IRS and other agencies, Romero explained.

A question from the audience pertained to the paramedic and EMT shortage and how Acadian handles attrition. Acadian has a hard time filling the seats of its own EMT training academy, Romero said. But the company has a large-enough reach to move staff from areas of surplus to those in need. The company reaches into high schools for a constant influx of new staff, and because of its varied career paths, Acadian finds that EMTs tend to stay with the company.

Acadian is a "just culture" organization, a structure that holds organizations accountable for the systems they design and for how they respond to staff behaviors fairly and justly, said Romero.

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Acadian regionalizes its pay structure based on cost of living and areas of need, but it causes "tremendous strife with our employees," Romero said. Starting pay has been raised across all areas and the company now has just two pay levels, he said.

While Romero expressed a degree of difficulty in summarizing the "Acadian Way," he said the key points are investing in communities, never tolerating substandard equipment, and above all, treating patients and providers with respect and dignity.

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