Acadian Ambulance & Air Med Services, Inc. History

300 Hopkins Street
Lafayette, Louisiana 70501

Telephone: (337) 291-3333
Toll Free: 800-259-3333
Fax: (337) 291-2211

Private Company
Incorporated: 1971 as Acadian Ambulance Service
Employees: 1,400
Sales: $97.9 million (1998 est.)
NAIC: 62191 Ambulance Service

Company Perspectives:

Acadian Ambulance & Air Med Services has been committed to providing the highest level of emergency and non-emergency medical care and transportation since 1971. The most sophisticated technology in the industry, combined with dedicated, caring professionals, has made Acadian a leader in the EMS field, and the largest ambulance company in the country. We are proud that the publisher of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services editorialized that Acadian "may be the best ambulance service in the nation." Key Dates:

Key Dates:

Roland Dugas, Richard Zuschlag, and Rolland Buckner start up Acadian Ambulance Service.
Subscription membership tops the 100,000 mark.
Company begins offering airborne EMS in conjunction with Petroleum Helicopters, Inc.
Company expands to the Baton Rouge area and establishes its Air Med Service.
Company logs its millionth patient transport.
Acadian institutes employee stock ownership.
The Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services accredits the company.
Acadian introduces its "Millennium Ambulance"

Company History:

Acadian Ambulance & Air Med Services, Inc. is the nation's largest private, employee-owned (ESOP) ambulance service. Headquartered in Lafayette, Louisiana, the company serves 32 parishes with over half of Louisiana's population, providing both emergency and non-emergency medical transportation. It operates and maintains a fleet of 140 ambulances, five Air Med helicopters, and two fixed-winged aircraft. The company also provides paramedical services to 60 offshore installations in the Gulf of Mexico. Over its history, the company has received many awards and commendations for its community service and various achievements. Notably, it has compiled an excellent record of adapting to new, state-of-the-art technologies, which, in 1999, prompted Microsoft's Chairman Bill Gates to write, in his book Business &#064 the Speed of Thought, that "Perhaps no emergency services firm in the country has made more use of PC technology than Acadian Ambulance and Air Med Services, in Lafayette, Louisiana." Because it has been an innovative company, many of Acadian's programs have served as models for other EMS companies nationwide.

1971-75: Getting Started and Quickly Expanding

In 1971, partners Roland Dugas, Richard Zuschlag, and Rolland Buckner, just in their twenties, started up Acadian Ambulance in response to a growing crisis in south-central Louisiana. Up until then, funeral homes had provided ambulance services for the area, but new federal regulations forced most funeral homes to stop offering the cost-prohibitive service, leaving several small communities at risk of having no ambulance providers at all.

Concerned about the impending difficulty, Acadian Ambulance's three founders teamed up in the late 1960s. At the time, Dugas, just out of the Air Force, was an assistant administrator at Lafayette General Hospital in Lafayette; Zuschlag was a contract employee for Westinghouse; and Buckner was a practical nurse. The three decided to create a private EMS company wholly independent of the area's funeral homes, then took their idea to the Lafayette Police Jury, which was already trying to deal with the crisis.

Although they lacked startup funds, the men proposed hiring and training former Vietnam War medics to staff all the modern ambulances they could arrange to purchase. They wanted to try customer-financing as the means of getting the operation underway, using a telethon to sell subscription memberships, a rather novel idea for south Louisiana. Although skeptical, the Police Jury decided to let the men try and, on July 21, 1971, it authorized Acadian Ambulance Services, Inc. to offer ambulance services throughout Lafayette Parish. Thanks in part to the support offered by important community leaders, the first membership campaign proved successful enough to become the annual means of soliciting memberships.

Initially, Acadian Ambulance's operation was very small. It was headquartered in a World War II vintage Quonset hut and consisted of just two ambulances, eight medics, and a managerial staff made up of the three founding partners, with Dugas serving as president. However, after September 1, 1971, when all funeral homes in Lafayette Parish stopped offering the service, Acadian Ambulance had an ambulance-service monopoly throughout the parish, a necessary condition for insuring both the company's survival and its growth.

Grow it did. In 1972, it established an in-house maintenance program, expanded its fleet of ambulances to eight and its membership to almost 26,000 households, up from 8,400 the previous year. It also began providing ambulance services in two adjacent parishes--St. Mary and Vermilion--where officials had noted Acadian's success in Lafayette Parish and invited the new company to extend services to their parishes. Moreover, Acadian Ambulance quickly developed pre-hospital medical care services far superior to anything previously seen in the region. It also put in place a dispatch system that would became a model for other EMS providers. In the next year, Acadian also began using a new telemetry radio system that allowed medics to transmit EKGs of heart attack victims from an ambulance to a hospital emergency room, an important step in initiating a new era of on-site cardiac-patient care.

In was also in 1973 that Acadian Ambulance had the largest growth year in its early history, beginning operations in St. Martin, Acadia, Terrebonne, and Jeff Davis Parishes as well as the town of Eunice in St. Landry Parish. Altogether, memberships rose to 70,648, up almost 200 percent from 1972. To accommodate its growth, in 1974 Acadian completed a new headquarters building, featuring an advanced Emergency Medical Dispatch Center as its centerpiece. By that time, the company had 100 employees, 75 of whom were registered Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Acadian Ambulance was also expanding into two other parishes: Evangeline and Iberia.

The company continued to develop a very efficient network of stations in the various parishes it served, so that by 1975, with just 33 ambulances, it was able to provide the coverage previously provided by over 100 funeral-home ambulances. At each station, Acadian Ambulance maintained at least one unit, on call around the clock, ready to respond to calls from any of its subscribers, which in 1975 had reached 80,216 households.

1976-80: Advances in Training and National Recognition for Excellence

In 1976, assured that its expansion would continue, Acadian Ambulance began focusing more of its attention on other parts of its mission. Among other things, it was determined to increase the scope and availability of its EMT training. To that end it formalized its courses and achieved a very high level of instruction, fully qualifying student-employees for certification by Louisiana and the National Registry of EMTs. In the same year, the company also began training its employees in I.V. therapy, making an important forward step in trauma care. Moreover, in conjunction with the military, the company began transporting patients by helicopters, a service it would later provide with its own Air Med helicopter fleet.

The following year, Acadian Ambulance received an award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the first of several national awards that the company has garnered through its history. In 1978, such recognition, plus its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, earned the company a role in a pioneering project using NASA satellites to communicate from offshore petroleum rigs to hospital emergency rooms.

The company reached a milestone in the next year, 1979, when its membership roll topped 100,000. The company also expanded into sparsely populated Assumption Parish, despite a lack of sufficient revenue generated by membership subscriptions. Its expansion into such lightly populated and sometimes nearly inaccessible regions helped spur Acadian to enhance its technology. Notably, in 1980, it expanded its telemetry system, allowing the transmission of the EKGs of heart-attack victims to hospital emergency rooms from virtually any point within the

company's service area, no matter how remote.

1981-89: Diversifying and Improving Services

In 1981, when Pointe Coupee Parish and all of St. Landry Parish were added to its service area, Acadian entered into a contract with Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. whereby PHI provided a medically-configured helicopter for Acadian Ambulance. Partly subsidized by two Lafayette hospitals, the helicopter ambulance became the first of what would later become the company's Air Med fleet. Also that year Acadian began providing contract medics to the offshore petroleum industry, working on the same seven-on, seven-off schedule of the other offshore workers.

Part of Acadian's mission from the outset had been to train its employees and, because medical and related technologies kept changing, to retrain them often. In 1983, for example, a new, radio telephone switching system made it possible to transmit EKGs to hospital emergency rooms while EMS personnel used telephones rather than the more intimidating and less comfortable two-way radios. Also that year, the company introduced a model defensive driving system designed to optimize both ambulance service and safety.

In 1985, Acadian commenced extending its service beyond boundaries that until then had kept its service area contained in contiguous parishes. That year it leap-frogged into East and West Baton Rouge Parishes, providing the base for its Capital Area Network. Subsidized in part by two Baton Rouge hospitals, the company also added its second Air Med helicopter stationed in that city, the Capital Area hub. The company soon further increased the size of its Capital service area by expanding into Ascension Parish and established Advanced Life Support service in Livingston Parish.

Over the next three years, despite the general plight of Louisiana's oil-bust economy, Acadian continued to grow, to diversify its services, and to make significant advances in technology and communications. In 1987, for example, it set up a toll-free, statewide telephone number for emergency calls to its newly dedicated Acadian Communication Center. It also added a third air ambulance to its fleet, and, in response to problems ambulances encountered while trying to maneuver at crowded events, the company introduced Med Cart I, a golfcart-like, medically-equipped vehicle.

Next, in 1989, Acadian added its first fixed-wing, medically-configured airplane to its Air Med fleet. The twin-engine craft provided the capacity to transport patients much longer distances than were possible with helicopters. In that year, the company also created a new department responsible for vehicle safety, hazardous material programs, and the defensive driving program.

1990 and Beyond

In 1990, Acadian Ambulance reached a major milestone, logging the transport of its millionth patient. The company was also still expanding, extending its services to Avoyelles Parish, where a tax initiative made its service available to all residents. Further, as an addition to the company's marketing and community relations program, it began using a new vehicle, "L'Etoile de Vie" (Star of Life), a hot-air balloon--its only craft to escape medical reconfiguration.

Acadian celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1991. That year it initiated "Acadian on Call," a personal alert system for the disabled and elderly. It also won a major honor when the American Ambulance Association recognized Acadian's community service and marketing program as the best in the nation. Additional awards came soon thereafter, when the company received the United States Senate Innovation Award for its pioneering work in bringing state-of-the-art EMS to sparsely populated rural areas and the development of its widely-imitated communications system. In 1992 Acadian added its second fixed-wing aircraft to its Air Med fleet: a twin-engine, prop jet capable of carrying two patients and up to four medical attendants in addition to its flight crew. The following year, the company introduced "Carpe Diem," a program designed to help its medics best prepare to give aid and comfort to the aged.

The year 1992 also marked the inauguration of Acadian's employee stock ownership program (ESOP). The EMS field's chief spokesperson, Jim Page, asserted at the time that Acadian "may well be the best ambulance service in the nation."

Over the next two years, Acadian continued to initiate programs and to improve existing ones. For example, in 1994 it secured a 311 three-digit phone number (later changed to 511), the first ever granted to an emergency service company. The next year, the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services accredited Acadian for its compliance with that agency's rigorous standards of excellence. The company also continued to expand, extending its 1995 service range to Rapides, East Feliciana, and St. Tammany parishes, bringing its total coverage to 26 parishes and 44 percent of Louisiana's population, making it the nation's largest privately-owned ambulance service. The expansion prompted Acadian to add a fourth Air Med helicopter to those serving the central Louisiana area. It also purchased a new BK-117 helicopter for service in the Capital Region. Larger than the other helicopters in the company's Air Med service, the BK-117 could carry up to four medics with a single patient or three medics with two patients.

By August 1996, Acadian Ambulance could boast a work force of 1,021 and a fleet of 143 ambulances, four helicopters, and two fixed-wing aircraft. That year the company introduced telemedicine for use offshore. The technology allowed emergency-room physicians at computer terminals to study high-resolution images transmitted by paramedics from offshore sites. Because of Acadian's exemplary record of adopting to such state-of-the-art technology, Inc. Magazine/MCI bestowed a National Technology Leadership Award on the company, selecting it from a list of over 800 small-to-mid-size businesses.

Acadian Ambulance's growth continued to the end of the century. In 1998, it expanded its coverage to 33 parishes when it acquired two companies headquartered in Lake Charles: Calcasieu Ambulance Service and LifeCare Ambulance Service. Adding seven parishes to its service area, the acquisitions gave Acadian a service range extending from the Mississippi to the Texas state borders. Changes would give it a different geographic configuration in 2000, when it terminated service in some parishes, started it up in others, and even moved across the state line into Jackson County, Mississippi. At the end of 2000, after entering new parishes and withdrawing from others, it had a 32-parish service area accounting for about 2.3 million people, over half of Louisiana's population. It had always been Acadian's policy to negotiate contracts giving the company term-limited but exclusive rights to providing its services, a major risk-reduction strategy that worked well through its rapid growth cycle. However, its right to be the sole provider of ambulance services has been challenged and has drawn some critical fire. In 2000, the small, Vermilion Parish city of Abbeville permitted another company, Med Express, to offer ambulance services in its jurisdiction. That decision, upheld in court, prompted Acadian to withdraw from Vermilion Parish altogether, giving notice that without the protection of a sole-provider clause in its renewed contracts, Acadian would not do business, a strict but necessary policy, though one that caused Med Express to complain that Acadian had become a "corporate bully." That and the unabashed, unapologetic courting of political figures by Richard Zuschlag, the company's CEO, put the firm on the media's targeting radar in 2000, somewhat tarnishing its image.

Nevertheless, Acadian Ambulance remained a much honored and respected company, noted for its devoted public service and excellent record of adapting to state-of-the art technology. It was clearly positioned for continued growth, both in the quality of its services and its range of coverage. The company's "millennium ambulance," introduced in 2000 and equipped with the most advanced medical and communications technology, seemed almost emblematic of the company itself--a company ever willing to test, evaluate, and adjust to the EMS needs of those for whom it provided its services.

Principal Competitors: Med Express Ambulance Service; American Medical Response Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Blanchard, Kevin, "Ambulance Service Shuts Offices: Acadian President Says Vermilion Parish Can't Support Two Companies," Advocate (Baton Rouge), September 1, 2000, p. 10B.
  • Franics, Bob, "Pen Tablets Rescue EMTs," PC Week, August 31, 1998, p. 34.
  • Jaleshgari, Ramin P., "VAR PAD Systems Answers the Call," Computer Reseller News, December 7, 1998, p. 152.
  • Lear, Calvin, "Acadian Ambulance Strikes Deal with Mississippi Counterpart," Advocate (Baton Rouge), July 14, 1995, p. 3B.
  • Simoneaux, Angela, "Med Express Can Continue Service: Judge Rules Acadian Ambulance Can't Challenge Permit," Advocate (Baton Rouge), April 21, 2000, p. 4B.
  • Walsh, Bill, "Ambulance Firm Rides on the Favor of Those in Power," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 4, 2000, p. A1.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 39. St. James Press, 2001.