Bernie Squitieri founded Express Medical Transporters (EMT) in 1996 in order to provide non-emergency medical transportation for adult day care, rehab, mental health and other health facilities and schools in St. Louis. His background as the general manager of a taxi company helped boost the company's initial success, as did the implementation in the 1990s of a federal managed health care program, which mandated that states provide necessary transportation for eligible recipients to and from Medicaid providers.
One of EMT's first contracts was with Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD), which contracted the transportation of about 30 special-needs students to EMT. "They were able to shrink their 65 routes down to about 48 routes," Squitieri says. "That's how we got started in student transportation."
EMT currently operates about 200 vehicles and employs 245 people in St. Louis. The company launched a franchise system in 2007, and a total of nine additional locations have opened across the country, with a total U.S. fleet of about 550 vehicles.
Squitieri estimates that school transportation represents about 20 percent of his business in St. Louis, with the company serving 35 districts in the county. "Over the last five years we've seen a tremendous growth — 250 to 300 percent — in homeless and No Child Left Behind Act [students]," he says. "Last year at our peak, we were [transporting] 275 children, and right now we're at 400."
Due to the growth in these populations and a growing need for special-needs transportation overall, EMT recently established its Student Transportation Division.
In addition to providing service for ambulatory clients with impairments preventing their ability to drive, EMT provides transportation for wheelchair-bound individuals, requiring a high-top vehicle with a hydraulic lift, and stretcher service for clients who have to be transported on a stretcher but don't need medical treatment.
The company's fleet includes small school buses, but some of EMT's contracts don't require the use of school buses, in which case minivans or sedans are used, Squitieri says.
EMT uses proprietary dispatching software with GPS routing. "We can look at any particular route at any particular time and know exactly where the driver is," Squitieri says. The system can also monitor speeds, stops and route adherence.
In St. Louis, EMT employs four mechanics at its maintenance facility, three of whom are ASE certified. Two tow trucks are available in case of breakdowns, and Squitieri says the company can provide a new vehicle and tow in the malfunctioning one with a turnaround of about 20 minutes.
He credits his drivers and a stringent screening process for a low frequency of accidents. "First of all, they have to have a clean driver's record. We don't hire anyone under 25 years of age, they can never have been convicted of a DUI ever in their life — I don't care if it's 35 or 40 years ago — and they go through post-employment drug testing, random drug pool and some background checks to make sure we get really dependable drivers," he says.
Drivers receive 40 hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel training, which includes a segment focusing on student transportation. Topics covered include sensitivity training, defensive driving, CPR, first aid and transporting persons with disabilities. "We're currently enhancing our training program with topics such as chronic illnesses," Squitieri notes.