Voices of the WHI: Dale Berry, retired president of Huron Valley Ambulance

Dale Berry, recently retired President of Huron Valley Ambulance and CEO of Emergent Health Partners, spoke with WHI communications chair Liz Conlin on January 9.

What inspired your passion for public health?
In 1975, I began my career as a police officer in South Lyon. At that time, police were dispatched to ambulance calls and I was concerned that I didn’t know what to do to help. So, I decided to go to EMT school, became involved with the South Lyon volunteer ambulance service, and was put in charge of it.

In 1981, there was a crisis when the two Ann Arbor Ambulance services were going bankrupt. The five hospitals, U-M, St. Joe’s, Beyer, Saline, and Chelsea were concerned about this so they approached me to assess the situation. Ultimately, the hospitals stepped in and decided to buy the ambulance services, close them down, and start Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA). I served as the President of HVA for 37 years and through our parent company, Emergent Health Partners, we added six ambulance services so HVA now serves 13 counties and 1.3 million people in Southern Michigan.

Which health challenges keep you up at night?
Berry. When we started HVA in 1981, 80 percent of the 911 calls were for non-emergencies. In 2015, we started a Community Paramedic program–one of 13 in Michigan–to help keep people at home and out of the ER. We visit patients who have been discharged from the hospital to make sure their home is safe and they understand their medication instructions.

One of our key roles is to help develop a “ plan of care” for people who are at risk of going back to the hospital or who tend to call 911 for non-emergencies. We assess their situation and help them get the medical care or social services they need. This saves time and money on unnecessary ambulance and ER trips. Priority Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and Medicaid now all cover these visits at a fraction of what an ambulance trip to the ER would cost.

What’s your proudest moment?
Berry. I am especially proud of how our health systems work together. I am especially proud of the five hospitals and CEOs that worked together to start HVA and served on the board for the first five years. I have seen numerous examples of how they have worked together to address issues over the years.

When and why did you join the WHI, and how has it been helpful?
Berry. WHI does important work to help people get access to health care. Affordable Care Act, dental care for the under-served, the WHI’s work on the Opioid crisis. And, of course, the WHI’s State Innovation Model project is all about trying to get providers focused on bringing the care hubs together to manage care so we are providing the right care and not duplicating services. This is important to HVA since people call 911 all the time for non-emergencies when what they really need is regular primary care.

Who or what inspires you to continue working for improved community health in our area?
The health care in Washtenaw is wonderful. Our hospitals, physicians and research is nation-leading. We have a great system here. The greatest need is making sure that everyone has access to it.

Dale will continue to sit on the board of the Michigan Ambulance Services, to serve as Board Chair for Glacier Hills, and to remain a WHI member.