Have Clipboard, Will Travel

Faced with diminishing Medicare reimbursements, this Minnesota ambulance fleet turned to an age-old method of keeping their revenues up: hiring out its expertise.

"If we can manage our costs, those costs then don't have to be transferred to the people who are using our services," he says. "A number of the patients we transfer are contracted, but for those patients whose insurance falls between the cracks, and they end up having to pay for these services, one of the things we can do is hold down the costs.

"And it also allows us to do a few more things with the community," he continues. "We do standby service for marathons and that sort of thing. So we're able to do community sponsored events, and do them because we have some of that availability, because of resources and because of dollars we've been able to save through those reduced costs."

While business development director Ron Gruening spends much of his time working with corporate clients, he also sees the impact his organization has on the neighborhood. "In a local sense, we have had residents walk here from a couple blocks over and ask, 'Hey, do you do this?' As you saw, we don't have signage out here identifying us as a retail store. But, we've been able to go to their home, get their vehicle here, fix it; I think that's a good community partner with that one contact."


Gruening is a true believer. To show the effect HealthEast Transportation has on the St. Paul community, he goes to his dry erase board and sketches out a diagram of the transportation department's services, clients and partners until the board is filled with circles and arrows. It's a spiderweb of action and involvement that shows how clever Gruening and his staff have been at blending revenue-enhancement with public service.

One of Gruening's recent successes is a mentoring partnership with nearby Dakota County Technical College, whereby students in the automotive technician program can get real-world training and experience from HealthEast Transportation.

"By bringing students in here, we can mentor them, teach them, keep them up to date with the technology we're seeing," explains vehicle maintenance supervisor John Kabat. "Because something we might see on an ambulance today, it's coming in a car tomorrow, if it's not already there.

"Part of that partnership is, if we need some better training on this, or we've got some new guys who need a chassis refresher, we can go to the guys at the college and say, 'This is what we need,' Kabat goes on, "and they say, 'No problem,' and we'll set up a day or an evening when we can go on there, get the refresher, and be all taken care of."

"I think that we're unique in how we're using the property, how we're using the resources, whether it's the physical plant or the staff," Gruening says. "I think that's the unique delivery. I think it's created a lot of growth for our staff; they're not in a robotic environment, where every day they're encountering the exact same thing. There are a lot of new challenges working here that they don't find at other employers."


"We've had days where we'll work on an ice auger, then in the afternoon we'll work on a backhoe. If it runs, we'll work on it," says vehicle maintenance supervisor John Kabat. "Our philosophy is, we don't care if it's your ice auger, your weed whacker, your backhoe, or whatever you have; it's getting the same treatment, the same service that we give our ambulances."

Kabat supervises two other technicians in the main garage, in addition to two technicians who work exclusively on outfitting police squad cars for clients, and one body shop technician. For such a small crew, it's amazing what they do—everyone on staff is ASE Certified, and nothing at HealthEast is outsourced.

"Other ambulance services that will service their own fleet; they don't service them to the point we do, taking care of everything from bumper to bumper; they'll send it out for body work, they'll send it out for major engine, but if it's oil changes or brakes, they'll do that in-house," Kabat explains. "We're unique in that we'll do bumper to bumper."

Kabat points out his ASE Certified Master Diesel Technician, Marco Padilla, as an example of what the HealthEast staff is capable of. "Anything diesel I've ever thought of, he knows ten times more," Kabat says. "We give everything to him; he can do an engine in a day; he's just an amazing guy."

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