AmeriCare Mobility Vans: Providing dependable medical transportation for those in need.
“I grew up in North Mankato. I had one friend in particular who was disabled,” Pinske said. “You know how kids often play games together and pick teams? My disabled friend was always picked first, because he was a little bit bigger and stronger, and if you’re playing football or basketball that’s what you want. Again, I realized that just because you have a disability, it doesn’t mean you don’t have strengths in other areas.”
Pinske’s strength may be his commitment to serving others. He gained firsthand knowledge of working with people with disabilities while watching his wife work in a group home. It gave him the opportunity to get to know the residents.
“I just felt I wanted to do something in that area,” Pinske said.
Little did he know that his education and passion for helping others would eventually lead him down the path to mobility services.
After high school, Pinske enrolled at the University of Minnesota Duluth to pursue a degree in the health care field. But he soon switched to a business degree so he could pursue what he calls his independent work style. It’s a strategy that has served him for more than three decades.
“Some 35 years later, I do kind of work in the health care field, but now I have a business background that I can combine with it. … so I’m kind of in the perfect place, in my opinion,” Pinske said.
AMV serves counties across south-central Minnesota, including Blue Earth, Waseca, Rice, Steele, Freeborn and Faribault. It also serves parts of Nicollet, Le Sueur and Mower counties.
After starting AMV in 1993, Pinske quickly grew the business. In 1998, he purchased the other NEMT business in town and business boomed. In 2009, he acquired a more regional business in southwest Minnesota. Then in 2013, he purchased another company that was serving the Owatonna, Austin and Faribault areas.
“All of our growth didn’t come from acquisitions. A lot of it came from (addressing) the growing need for nonemergency medical transportation and the aging population in the area,” Pinske said. “We do 300 to 350 trips per day, or 80,000 trips on an annual basis. Those numbers are actually down because of the COVID pandemic. It used to be around 110,000 trips per year. So we still have a little ways to go to get back to where we were (before COVID).”
AMV has a certified fleet of over 50 vehicles conveniently stationed throughout its service area to meet its clients’ needs.
“Our vehicles are certified, licensed and inspected annually by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s State Patrol. All our vehicles are built to conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as all other applicable federal and state statutes,” Pinske said. “In addition, all of our drivers have passed Defensive Driving and Passenger Assistance courses. They are certified and licensed for the vehicles they drive and must pass annual motor vehicle record checks.”
Pinske says each driver goes through 40 hours of training before they can drive a van, although the state only requires 16. This is just one of the many ways AMV sets itself apart.
“We want to go above and beyond to make sure everyone is safe. They are driving our trucks. They are representing our company. So we want them to be equipped to make that ride as smooth and as safe as possible. We tell our drivers the most important customer is the one they’re with,” Pinske said.
AMV provides people who have physical or cognitive disabilities with rides to and from medical services or facilities, including special transportation for people using wheelchairs or those who need assistance walking.
“We also do a lot of work for the school district,” Pinske said. “We provide some services for people who are enrolled in the Medicaid program that have a disability, too.”
AMV services are accessed through contracts with large payers, such as Blue Cross, UCare, South Country Health Alliance and Medica. It also works with local counties.
“Most times, you have to have prior authorization or approval through your payer, and then the member or the payer would reach out to us and schedule the ride,” Pinske said.
Filling out paperwork and determining eligibility requirements can be a daunting task. Pinske credits his strong and dedicated staff as the driving force in keeping things running as smoothly as possible.
“We have an office full of fantastic staff that help to make this happen. There’s a lot to it,” Pinske said.
Services include a wide range of options for a wide range of clients. AMV provides a lot of wheelchair transportation, Pinske says, but it also does ambulatory service, which is just a small fraction of the services it provides on a day-to-day basis.
Like most businesses during the COVID pandemic, AMV took a big hit from the declining number of clients served, which impacted the financial side of the business.
Pinske says, “COVID’s been a learning experience for all of us, and we’re not immune to it at our business. In early March of 2020, when the pandemic started, the demand for our services went down as the governor ordered a shutdown of all elective procedures. That impacted a lot of what we do and the people we serve. If someone needed a hip replacement, we would normally take them to (that procedure) and then possibly (transport them) to physical therapy for the next few weeks or however long it takes. So obviously we couldn’t do that.”
The drop in the number of clients AMV was able to serve also impacted staff members.
“We had to furlough the vast majority of our staff. At one point, trips and revenue were down nearly 90 percent, and that persisted throughout that first summer.”
But AMV found ways to stay afloat and stay resilient, with Pinske adopting a new blueprint for success for AMV: “We focused on critical transports. That would be things like dialysis, oncology, wound care and things of that nature. We made sure that people got connected to those lifesaving treatments.”
While business has improved over time, it isn’t quite back to pre-pandemic levels.
“We had 57 trucks on the road before COVID and we’re at 45 right now,” Pinske said. “So that’s about 20 percent or more trucks that we’re down, and our revenue is at about 80 percent of where we were before the pandemic.”
As daunting as that might be for a business owner, Pinske says his confidence in AMV’s success is increasing day by day.
“I feel a little bit more comfortable that the business is at least sustainable now. From a business perspective, I’ve built it to that level in the past, and I’m doing everything in my power to get it back to that again,” Pinske said. “It is taking longer than what I anticipated, but I think it is taking longer than what anybody anticipated. But we’re in it for the long haul. I’ve been doing this for 29 years, and to be honest, I’m not sure I know how to do anything else.”
Even with the challenges, Pinske says the best part of the job is the people he gets to work with and for.
“I drove for the company for 16 years. I took myself out of that role in 2009 when we made that second acquisition, because I needed to focus on a more managerial role,” Pinske said.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working with and interacting with all of the people that I encountered over the years, the clients I saw on a daily basis. I had the pleasure of working with and transporting old teachers, friends of my parents, parents of my friends, friends of mine, hockey coaches, neighbors and landlords. For me, it feels like we have come full circle in that we are able to give back to the community. So my favorite part of the job without question is the people that I get to work with.”
Though his role in the company has changed, Pinske’s dedication and commitment to service remains as strong as ever.
“I don’t get to see the people as much as I used to when I was driving, but I still maintain the same commitment and philosophy of treating everyone with the respect and care they deserve and treating them like they’re the most important client we have,” Pinske said.
Pinske knows AMV couldn’t be successful without its dedicated staff of 59 employees. He has worked alongside them for decades.
Pat Pinske is the lead mechanic and maintains 48 AMV vehicles in accordance with MNDOT regulations.
“I absolutely love my fantastic staff. A couple have been here 25 years, others have been here five, seven or 10 years. We’re all in this together to get people from point A to point B,” Pinske said. “COVID, of course, has really created a more cohesive group, as we value the jobs that we have here. We want to make sure that they’re sustainable and that we can get the company back to where it was. We do that through the collective services that we offer to the people.”
Pinske used the pandemic downturn to improve his business by starting the nonemergency medical transportation accreditation process, a monumental task with monumental rewards.
“During COVID, you saw your business start to fail and you had no control over how to stop it. It was a real time of self-reflection,” Pinske said. “I had been doing this for 29 years. It was a challenge, trying to figure out what to do next. Especially when you have no control over how to preserve it. I kept thinking that I am too old to start over, I need to maintain this.”
Kirsten Lamont is the lead dispatcher and dispatches over 400 rides per day.
As he has done throughout his career, Pinske looked for ways to take his business to the next level.
“I was looking to deliver more value to the communities that we serve, and I thought accreditation was a good way to do that,” Pinske said.
On Nov. 12, 2021, AMV became the first company in Minnesota to receive national NEMT accreditation from the Non Emergency Medical Transportation Accreditation Commission.
“We were the first company in the state to receive that accreditation, the only company in the state to receive that accreditation,” Pinske said. “It was a rather rigorous and robust process to make sure that we dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s. It took us about six months to make sure that we had everything in order. I think it is a huge accomplishment.”
Pinske says this means AMV is now certified to say it offers top-notch services, maintains high training standards and has excellent credentials.
“We’re more than just a fly-by-night taxi company,” Pinske said. “We’re a good, solid business that’s run well, is compliant with our regulators and maintains a safe fleet, and a good fleet operation and call center.”
For Pinske, the accreditation also signifies a triumph over the challenges that came with adapting to the pandemic, especially when you factor in all the hard work and dedication that took place behind the scenes.
“It’s really a great honor. Watching your business kind of fail right in front of your eyes and then being able to survive through that and then turn around and accomplish something like this was a big success,” Pinske said.
With the new accreditation and increasing demand for service, the company is experiencing a strong rebound. With a dedicated leader at the wheel, an experienced staff and a large fleet at the ready, AMV is poised to continue driving success throughout southern Minnesota.