By Audrey Fraizer
Harvey L. Hall commands respect.
And he also gives it back.
His employees refer to the company owner as “Mr. Hall.” Others from Bakersfield—at least during the past 14 years—generally address him as “Mayor Hall.”
“I’m the city’s longest-serving mayor,” said Hall, who owns and operates Hall Ambulance Service in Bakersfield, Calif. “It’s among the best jobs in America because of the good things I get to do.”
The good things prompted Hall’s decision to start an ambulance service in 1971, and it’s a drive that defines his business ethics and his approach to public office.
But that doesn’t mean he boasts about his accomplishments.
“Mr. Hall is a modest man,” said Jennifer LaFavor, Manager, communications division. “He simply believes in investing in his community and his people.”
He’s not the center stage type and prefers shining the light away and focusing on the results of the company motto: “Doing things the Hall way.”
So what does that mean for his employees?
Hall laid a foundation of expectations 44 years ago that is still followed today, said Mark Corum, Director, media services. “Each of us strives to meet or exceed it every day, which makes us better in our respective areas of responsibility.”
Hall Ambulance has never stopped thriving since it opened for service on Feb. 10, 1971, with an ambulance that Hall purchased with a $10,000 loan.
The first ambulance—which Hall parked and dispatched from home—was soon the first of two ambulances serving a city of 75,000 residents. In the past 44 years, his fleet has grown to 86 ambulances and an air rescue helicopter operating out of 22 locations in Kern County, including Bakersfield (county seat), to serve a population of 864,000.
Corum said the secret to their success is keeping a close account of customer and employee satisfaction and keeping up with the state of the industry. They also establish and reach goals, setting them apart from a run-of-the-mill operation.
The service’s communication center adopted the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) in 1992 and achieved a medical Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) in 2011, re-accrediting in 2014. A $300,000 makeover in 2014 upgraded the center’s technology—software, radios, touch screens—and comfort level for the 18 EMDs.
“Everything is ergonomic,” LaFavor said.
The annual recognition day, held on Feb. 10, identifies the top employee from each division; the winning communications specialist goes to NAVIGATOR.
Selection is based on specific job responsibilities, such as calltaking response, the amount of time the individual has worked in the company’s dispatch center, and good work habits. Every employee wears a uniform, and no one shows up wrinkled, dog-haired, or wearing a splash of yellow from a breakfast egg.
Customer service figures highly in the employee’s rating, Corum said, and the calculation is derived from surveys sent to every patient they transport. Hall, who splits his day between the mayor’s office and his administrative office, reviews the surveys and makes sure any complaints—down to a bumpy ride—are resolved. Once investigated, a member of his management team follows up with the customer about their concern with a phone call. In 2014, 66 percent of respondents stated that Hall Ambulance provided “exemplary” service across their five measurements of success, with a total combined customer satisfaction score of 95%.
While Hall does keep his finger directly on the pulse of business, he’s not heavy-handed in his management style, LaFavor said.
“He trusts my leadership,” she said. “He invests in his people and what his employees need to succeed.”
LaFavor started with the company 25 years ago, grouping her among the 160 employees—of a total 390 employees—to reach at least 10 years of service. Nearly 50 percent have celebrated the five-year mark. Hall Ambulance Communications Technology Specialist Ed Smith started at the company 44 years ago. He was hired in May 1972, and in 1975, he completed the first paramedic program in Kern County.
Three years ago, Hall presided over a ceremony held to honor Smith’s 40th anniversary, remarking that he “was blessed” to have his service for so many years.
“Mr. Hall treats us like family,” LaFavor said. “No one gets lost in the shuffle.”
At the annual Christmas party in 2014, Hall praised the communication staff for their skills, dedication, compassion, and longevity.
“We had zero turnover in 2014,” she said. “With short staffing being the No. 1 issue in Kern County, it’s almost embarrassing when I’m the only one standing at meetings to say we’re not hiring in dispatch at this time.”
LaFavor rarely fills in on a shift because of consistent full staffing, so she was able to concentrate on completing the Twenty Points of Accreditation. Carol Dean, Reports Analyst, who has worked for the company for over 20 years, was a vital link in the accreditation process.
LaFavor said the “Type A” personalities dominant in the profession and certainly Hall’s dispatch center employees were on board from the start. It’s their competitive nature, she explained. They are driven to be better than everybody else.
To avoid the burnout that is common among dispatchers, LaFavor also tries to encourage her staff to maintain a balanced work and home life.
During their standard 12-hour shifts, she rotates them through dispatch and calltaking positions every four hours, stresses the importance of taking their allotted 15-minute breaks, and encourages them to take lunch off grounds. Her scheduling pattern for dispatching staff alternates weekends. This allows for the employees to have every other weekend off. There is little mandated overtime to cover an open shift.
A community spirit of “giving back” is essential to the balance, said Hall, who serves on the boards of four organizations and is a past member of 11 other boards.
Each year, Hall Ambulance participates in community events to inform the public about emergency medical services, out-of-hospital care, healthy lifestyles, and injury prevention.
Employees carry the banner to give back in projects that include the Gifts for Seniors drive that in 2014 collected enough in donations to fill the stockings of the county’s 1,314 residents of skilled nursing facilities. Hats, gloves, and scarves were the ornaments on the Christmas tree set up in the company’s business office.
So, what’s not to enjoy about working for Hall Ambulance Service?
“You have to like what you do—have a passion for helping others,” said Corum, who has worked either directly or indirectly in media promotions for the company since 1996. “You realize that it makes Mr. Hall’s day when he sees his employees coming to work smiling.”
Hall’s career choice story is classic.
He tried something because of a friend’s dare, and the experience worked so well in his favor that his life took an abrupt turn at that very instant.
Or, at least, as the story goes, after he talked to his mom about accepting the dare.
“She said give it a try,” Hall said. “So, I did.”
Hall was a young adult at the time, working as an orderly in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital. He was at the bus stop on his way home when a friend from high school approached him. The friend drove an ambulance, and when they were talking, he dared Hall to come on a run.
Two days later, one day after the ride, he was working for the company. After ten years, and learning every facet of the business, he embarked on his dream to build the best ambulance company in America.
Whether he wears the mayor’s hat or his ambulance service hat, there’s one clear objective.
“I am driven by perfection,” Hall said. “I am driven to make every day better than the day before.”
Hall Ambulance Service provides 90 percent of paramedic patient transports in Kern County, and both ground and air critical care transport services. According to the dispatch statistics:
•Dispatch service area—8,148.64 square miles
•Dispatch service area population—864,000
•Number of calls dispatched per year—100,000
The communication center also provides dispatching for another EMS provider, Liberty Ambulance, which covers Ridgecrest and Lake Isabella, Calif.