Manage Your Business
One entrepreneur's approach to ambulance service is changing the industry
This story is part of "Dream Builders," a series that spotlights how women turn their business aspirations into reality—often defying tremendous odds—and innovate along the way. It is presented by Chase for Business.
In February 1998, I launched an ambulance service with a card table, a phone and two ambulances parked outside a Chicago storefront. We called it MedEx, and we didn't even have a garage.
I'll never forget just staring at the phone that first day, waiting for it to ring. My dispatcher was getting a little nervous.
"Don't worry," I told him, "it's going to be good."
That first ring was music to our ears. We did three transports that day. Now, MedEx averages 200 transports daily.
Back then, we were working 24/7 and it was scary not to know if it was going to succeed. But now, I think back on the "good old days." I loved that we were building something from scratch.
After 13 years working for other private ambulance providers, I knew there was a way to provide better customer service to patients, hospitals and families, as well as a better culture for employees.
That was my vision.
Nearly two decades later, MedEx has achieved all that and more, becoming one of the top ambulance services in the Midwest and an innovator in the industry.
Take care of employees first
From the start, we wanted MedEx to be different from most ambulance providers. Instead of focusing on trucks and equipment—typical for the industry—I emphasized our culture, employees and the relationships. I believe that if you take care of your employees, they'll take care of your customers and that will help the bottom line.
That's why I've always taken great pride in making our facilities more inviting for staff and guests. We also offer our employees meals, technology and other on-site amenities. With a shortage of EMS professionals around the country, it's crucial for our company to be recognized as a great place to work.
Think of patients as family
Our employees carry that culture of caring and going the extra mile to patients and customers. I tell them to think of our patients as family, and behave as if they're transporting someone they love.
It's heartening to know that our work makes a difference. Behind my desk, I framed a note from a patient's daughter, and it read: “You saved my mother's life."
Prepare for emergencies
I clearly remember Memorial Day weekend of 2002. I thought MedEx had died.
A virus infected our computers, corrupting our backup data, including all of our transport and invoicing information. Our IT team worked all weekend, but couldn't get it back. Finally, I found a firm in Minnesota that insisted it could help.
"Don't come back until you have our data," I told our IT manager.
Twenty-two hours later, he returned—with the data. And we learned how important it is to back up our back-up.
Create a team of leaders you trust
There have been other challenges, of course—especially when it comes to managing all the regulatory and licensing requirements. As an entrepreneur, however, you need to recognize that there will always be challenges. In fact, whatever you think is the biggest problem will at some point be eclipsed by something bigger.
But I have assembled a leadership team that I trust, and am confident we'll get through whatever comes next.
Innovate, even if it's hard
A few years ago, one of my managers read about Google Glass, and came up with the idea of using it as a tool to better communicate with emergency rooms from the field. No one in the world had used Glass in an ambulance, and it took us 18 months to work with regulators to make it happen.
It's a perfect example of how we strive to differentiate ourselves and ensure MedEx remains a leader in the industry.
We're also the first ambulance provider to launch a mobile integrated healthcare program. Our paramedics visit recently discharged hospital patients at home. We assess patients, check their safety, and make sure they know how to take their medications and use their devices. By doing so, we're helping lower hospital readmission rates.
Believe in yourself
Creating this company wasn't something I wanted to do. It was something I needed to do. And being a woman was never a disadvantage: If you can do a better job, it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman.
I always tell aspiring entrepreneurs that they'll probably encounter people who say they can't accomplish their goals. You have to remember, it's your vision and your dream. If you believe in yourself, you can bring amazing things to life.
Photo: Kathleen Virginia Photography | Lauren Rubinson-Morris is president and CEO of MedEx.