Former Rural/Metro exec wins ambulance contract in Maricopa County

This story originally appeared in the Phoenix Business Journal on Aug. 2, 2016. 

by Angela Gonzales

Knoxville, Tennessee-based Priority Ambulance Inc. has received state approval to start operating ambulance service in Maricopa County — with plans to employ 400 within five years.

The company will operate Maricopa Ambulance for emergency and non-emergency ambulance services throughout most of Maricopa County, with a few pockets missing in certain areas, such as Buckeye.

After a two-year regulatory approval process, Maricopa Ambulance has been issued a Certificate of Necessity from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Bryan Gibson founded Priority Ambulance after leaving his COO position with Scottsdale-based Rural/Metro Corp., which is now owned by Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Envision Healthcare Holdings Inc. (NYSE: EVHC)

That $620 million acquisition will bolster Envision’s medical transportation unit, American Medical Response — and Priority’s biggest competitor in Arizona.

Gibson left Rural/Metro in 2011, before the company struggled through a Chapter 11 reorganization in 2013.

He had joined Rural/Metro after selling his original ambulance company to Rural/Metro in 1997, when he was 29. At the time, his ambulance company had 60 ambulances.

When he left Rural/Metro, he signed a non-compete agreement that prohibited from operating a competing firm in Arizona. That’s why he started the company in Knoxville, and has since grown to seven states.

It took about two years to work through the CON process in Arizona, he said.

“No stone is left unturned by not only the state but by providers you’re competing against,” Gibson said. “You go through court and everything gets poked at.”

As part of the deal to earn the ambulance CON, Gibson set up a $7 million fund to invest in Arizona’s expansion efforts.

He expects to hire upwards of 400 in Arizona within the next five years. So far, 15 people work in the company’s Scottsdale administrative and finance office, giving Priority a West Coast presence. A handful came with him from Rural/Metro.

“Right now, there’s only one company serving 4 million people there,” he said. “AMR is the dominant provider since the acquisition of Rural/Metro. Now we’re the No. 2 ambulance provider coming in a large way, adding lots of transportation to the market.”

The company currently employs about 1,000 emergency medical technicians and paramedics around the country, conducting around 150,000 patient transports a year.

Gibson is in the process of acquiring two more companies that will put him in 11 states and double his annual transports to more than 300,000.

He expects to close those deals within 30 to 60 days.

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