NEWMAN - West Side Community Ambulance ushered in the New Year by putting two new ambulances into service Thursday afternoon.

The fanfare surrounding the arrival of the two Ford Transit units included a formal program and christening by the Rev. Isaque Meneses, pastor at the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles.

The program was held in front of a former real estate office at 531 Hills Ferry Road, which the West Side Healthcare District is purchasing and converting to quarters for its ambulance crews.

The event went beyond celebrating the arrival of new vehicles, though, and in some ways commemorated the revitalization of an agency which barely two years ago faced an uncertain future.

The new ambulances, and the pending crew quarter project, represent significant steps forward for the provider, said Michael Courtney, chief of ambulance operations for West Side.

The new rigs, along with other district vehicles and crew uniforms, reflect West Side’s new, predominantly blue-themed colors, replacing the long-standing green color theme.

“The re-branding gave us a new image and more accurately reflects (traditional) EMS colors,” said Courtney. “We, as a group, felt like West Side needed to be re-branded to exemplify the change in culture that we have experienced.”

Courtney joined West Side in October 2019, after the district board had decided to return to in-house management following several years of contracting with outside agencies to guide the service.

The importance of in-house leadership cannot be overstated, said Courtney, who is assisted by Joshua Brace, assistant chief of ambulance operations, and Roberta Casteel, administrative services manager, among others.

The internal culture of the organization left much to be desired when he arrived, Courtney told Mattos Newspapers, but over time and with a collective effort the tone has shifted.

“Most of what I saw, when I first got here, was a lack of leadership. There were no boots on the ground interacting with staff on a day to day basis,” he commented. “The culture was very negative. Today I would describe it as collaborative and positive.”

The process of changing that culture was slow and initially difficult, Courtney acknowledged, but essential.

“Most of it is just communication and people. From the top down you have to lead with accountability, and with accountability comes expectations,” he reflected. “Along those lines, everybody needs feedback and positive reinforcement. No one is out there to punish (crews). We are giving them constant feedback and reinforcement that they are doing a good job.”

Adding to the difficult climate, Courtney said, was the fact that West Side was short-staffed at the time.

“It is very difficult to run this kind of a business short-staffed,” he emphasized.

That, too, is changing.

The district’s most recent job posting drew a dozen applicants, Courtney pointed out, leading to the employment of a half dozen new employees.

The response, he reflected, “means that West Side’s image outside the community is getting much better.”

With the new hires, he said, West Side will be fully staffed to operate the two ambulances it has in service 24 hours a day.

More staff will be needed when the provider moves forward with plans to add a Santa Nella unit.

The tenuous future faced by West Side in late 2018 has given way to a transformation and fresh start in many ways, said Courtney, who noted that the agency is in a much stronger position financially as well as operationally.

Brace and Dennis Brazil, president of the ambulance board, agreed.

“Two years ago, we had a pretty tough decision to make on the future of West Side, and if it was even viable to keep the doors open,” Brazil commented. “The decision was made to regroup and reorganize, and turn it to a different direction and management style.”

Brace said the transformation has been night-and-day, and has involved the board, the management team and the employees.

“It was all of us together,” Brace reflected. “It is a whole new place. We had to change the culture. It was all for the better. I am really excited to see where it goes.”