At some point in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, after the winds had passed and the levees had snapped, Children’s Hospital in New Orleans found itself in deep trouble. The city’s electricity was long gone and the hospital’s neonatal unit was running on back-up generators. The only option was to airlift the babies to safety.
Fortunately, Marc Creswell, a flight-training officer for Acadian Ambulance Services in nearby Lafayette, had become an expert in the construction of makeshift helipads. He bulldozed a fence at a field next to the hospital and set up an outdoor generator and a series of lights. Then Creswell and a team of Acadian colleagues and hospital nurses began ferrying sick infants in their incubators to the landing area. Healthier babies were rushed out in their bassinets. When they ran out of those, Creswell found some cardboard boxes, wrapped the babies up tight and loaded them six to a helicopter.
Creswell was just one of hundreds of Acadian Ambulance employees who sprang to action in the wake of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. But the quick thinking and dedication exhibited in the field started at the top, with Richard Zuschlag, the company’s 57-year-old CEO.
A Pennsylvania native, Zuschlag was sent to Louisiana in 1970 as a communications engineer for Westinghouse. But he fell in love with a Cajun girl and never left. Looking for something to do besides engineering, he started an ambulance service with two partners. Zuschlag dispatched during the day and drove at night, and poured every dime back into the business. In 1998, he bought out his partners and restructured the business as an ESOP. The company now has numerous private accounts, big contracts with Medicare and Medicaid, and a burgeoning division that sends medics to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Amazingly, Acadian collects on only 55% of the 250,000 patient transports it does a year because so many of the people it serves are poor and uninsured. Zuschlag has learned to live with it. ‘A lot of people think we’re a public utility,’ he says.
Acadian Ambulance certainly behaved like one after the hurricane. When Zuschlag wasn’t directing rescue efforts, he worked the phones, demanding action from politicians. A call to a local congressman helped clear some bureaucratic roadblocks Acadian’s crews were encountering. During an appearance on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, he made an urgent plea for reinforcements. When Laura Bush visited the region, he asked the First Lady to relay to her husband that it would take the full strength of the military to clear out the city’s hospitals. Zuschlag’s not taking credit, but the next morning, the troops arrived–almost five days after Acadian dispatched its first helicopter.Read Article