by David Shivers
Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County members gained some insights into the challenges of running an ambulance service on August 26. Charles Proctor and Todd Hartman, partners in Gold Star Ambulance, were guests at the club’s weekly meeting as Proctor gave an overview and history of the service. Gold Star transports patients in non-emergency and critical-care as well as emergency circumstances.
Proctor had previously been in ambulance service for 25 years and an EMS trainer for 13 years. He said Hartman initially approached him in January 2009 about joining to buy an ambulance service, but he initially rejected the idea. He eventually consented when Hartman offered a 50/50 partnership, and they looked for an ambulance business to buy. After approaching a prospect and finding it would take millions of dollars to purchase an established service and deciding it was too much, they decided to start their own.
Talking to Phoebe Putney Hospital and Dougherty County Emergency Medical Service, they learned a private ambulance service would be welcome that would take some pressure off them by taking over non-emergency transport calls.
“If you can come up with some ideas for running the calls that we don’t have to run, you’ll take some of the heat off our own service,” Proctor said a top EMS official told him.
“Then the idea was solidified, because we if could remove some of the non-emergency transport business from the (public) ambulance service, then the emergency ambulances can stay in their zones and take care of emergencies,” said Proctor. “Lo and behold, Gold Star Emergency Ambulance Services was born. We talked about this on Dec. 25, and June 6, 2010, we opened our doors and ran our first ambulance call.”
“To be an ambulance service in the state of Georgia,” Proctor explained, “you have to be certified as an emergency ambulance, so we are fully equipped to do every single thing that could possibly happen to you or a loved one.
On the business side, Proctor said Gold Star receives no funding from the county or city. “To generate revenue we have to put a person in the ambulance and it has to go somewhere. Todd, who has been evaluating businesses for most of his career as an attorney, knew what we had to do to be successful.”
With his experience, Proctor could handle the training and emergency end of the business, but he said he didn’t realize how highly regulated the industry was. Hartman’s experience provided “a one-two business punch.”
“It really has just grown beyond the wildest imagination,” Proctor described. They started with three ambulances in Albany, and success here prompted them to expand to Thomasville. “We found a guy like me,” Proctor said, “and he has taken that and grown it to the same size as the Albany operation. They then moved into the Bainbridge market and now have two ambulances there, “doing the same thing we do here. We remove the necessity of emergency ambulances having to move non-emergency patients to different areas.”
Gold Star Ambulance currently employs “50 taxpayers, which is a pretty good feeling in a down economy,” Proctor said.
“Our people show up on time, they do the right thing. Whenever we do get a phone call that something’s wrong, which is extremely rare, we fix it right then. And we pride ourselves on being the best we can possibly be by always getting better with everything that we learn,” he added.
Hartman and Proctor took classes on ambulance billing to become certified ambulance billers, “then we hired somebody who had billed for an ambulance service for 25 years,” so now they can contract with other ambulance companies to provide billing services.
Fees for ambulance transports vary, said Proctor. “The typical fee from here to Atlanta is somewhere (in the) $1200 and $1800 dollar range,” depending on what’s required. Around town is in the $350-$550 range, depending. Fees go up according to where a patient has to go in the state, but “we try to keep our prices as low and as competitive as they can be so we can stay in business.”
Fuel is, of course, a major expense. “I could never imagine, before being a business owner, paying a $10,000 a month fuel bill,” Proctor said. However, “It’s an amazing thing to see this business go from nothing to being a fully viable part of our economy.”
Gold Star is looking at moving into the 911 industry “which is what I’ve done most of my career, is run an emergency ambulance service.” A lot of counties have people in charge of EMS services who don’t have a business background and spend and spend until ambulance service is “in oblivion,” and they are looking for companies to come in who can run it more efficiently and effectively. “We have several contracts that we’re on the cusp of (signing) and we look forward to moving into that field, so we can say that we are a broad-ranged EMS provider.”
A major point Proctor wanted to make in conclusion is that Gold Star has the capability to handle emergency situations. “A lot of people think that because we don’t do it (as a matter of routine) that we can’t do it,” he said.