MERIDEN — Hunter’s Ambulance Services Inc. will continue its east and west side operations and retain its 340 employees if a planned purchase agreement with Hartford HealthCare is approved by state regulators.
The 57-year-old, family-owned company agreed to become a division of Hartford HealthCare Friday, pending state approval.
“The leadership team believes the move is timely, and appropriately aligns the excellence of service of our prehospital care personnel at Hunter’s with the excellence of service and community care offered throughout Hartford HealthCare,” according to a statement from Hunter’s administrative officials.
A school transportation service operated by Hunter’s was acquired separately by New Britain Transportation.
Hunter’s has operated under employee stock ownership since 2010.
“This acquisition recognizes the significant contributions of our team members, past and present, and allows for the continued growth and expansion of EMS services provided across the state,” said David Lowell, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Hartford HealthCare’s commitment to a fully integrated EMS system is evident in this acquisition. I am extremely optimistic for the opportunities this acquisition affords our employees and the communities they serve.”
Lowell, who is also a Meriden city councilor, and other Hunter’s representatives met with city officials Monday to discuss the sale.
“We are thankful for the years of dedicated service the Hunter’s family has provided to our community,” Scarpati said. “The city of Meriden has a strong partnership with Hartford HealthCare and we look forward to growing our relationship in this new endeavor. We expect great care and service to continue in our community and Hartford HealthCare has assured us they are committed to providing the highest level of care for our residents.”
Under terms of the deal, Hartford HealthCare will be leasing all properties currently occupied by Hunter’s Ambulance on Meriden’s east and west sides, in Berlin, Middletown, Wallingford and Old Saybrook. Lowell, and Chief Executive Officer Donna Hunter and Vice President of Business Development Dana Hunter will remain with Hunter’s during a transition before turning operations over to Hartford HealthCare’s emergency medical services division.
Hartford HealthCare must file a certificate of need with the state’s Office of Health Strategy and a public hearing on the sale will be scheduled. Hunter’s Ambulance Services Inc. will retain its current name and associated branding, and will operate as a subsidiary of Hartford HealthCare.
Lowell said the acquisition does not impact the choice of hospital by patients that are transported.
“Patients have the right to choose their hospital and this will not change,” Lowell said. “In addition, there are clinical protocols that direct patient transport to specialty hospitals for certain types and severity of traumatic and medical events.”
Hospitals operating their own emergency services is a growing trend in the ambulance industry. In central Connecticut there are a number of ambulance services that are part of healthcare systems, including Bristol Hospital, Trinity Health, Middlesex Hospital, Windham Hospital, L & M Hospital and Nuvance, Lowell said.
This is the first emergency services acquisition for Hartford HealthCare, a spokeswoman said.
Hunter’s has been providing levels of certification and education programs for its EMTs, and paramedics, in areas such as advanced cardiac life support, CPR, first aid, emergency vehicle operations and more.
Hartford HealthCare through MidState Medical Center, and two former city hospitals have been the medical director and control sponsor hospital for more than 40 years for Hunter’s. The arrangement is part of the regulatory structure for EMS services in the state. Hartford HealthCare also offers a number of continuing medical education programs, Lowell said. NBT buys school service
Hunter’s has also operated a school transportation service for special needs and other students since 1995.
“Our caring and loyal staff have served the student transportation needs for Meriden since 1995 and we are so proud of their service,” Donna Hunter said. “As a smaller provider of student transportation, we recognize the limitations for growth for our staff and the difficulty in competing for a shrinking statewide pool of bus drivers.”
Hunters approached New Britain Transportation, which shares the company’s “values for employees and quality service” and is currently the bus provider for Meriden Public Schools, Lowell said.
“After several discussions we were comfortable that we were not abandoning our staff, rather we were handing them off to an organization that would value their time in service with us and service to the students in the community, and as a large bus company, would be able to offer additional opportunities not otherwise available,” Lowell stated in an e-mail.
Meriden Public Schools voted in September to transfer Hunter’s contract to New Britain Transportation.
“Continuity of care and service is particularly important for the students transported under this contract,” Lowell said. “Peter Agostini, Richard Spencer and their NBT team have been wonderful to work with during the transition process. NBT will be leasing the property and housing the vehicles in Meriden at the existing location used by Hunter’s” according to Lowell.
Hunter’s Limousine LTD is a stand-alone company and is not part of any ownership changes. It has continued to operate in a scaled-back capacity only due to the impacts of COVID on travel and large gatherings but is open for business, Lowell said. Valuable opportunity
Donna Hunter, whose father Vern Hunter founded the company with one ambulance in 1963, said the decision to sell was bittersweet, but a valuable opportunity. It was important for Hunter’s that the acquiring institution mirror the same core values and reputation within the industry.
“While we have continued to expand our footprint over the years, we have decided that it is within the best interests of the company’s future growth and development to align with a major health care system and Hartford Healthcare was the best choice,” Donna Hunter said. “Our mutual goal is to provide an integrated approach to improved access and quality of healthcare to each individual patient and as a result, the commuity, and to do this at the lowest possible cost.”