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American Medical Response Inc. (AMR) announced the departure of president Mark Bruning, effective Jan. 14. William A. Sanger, chief executive officer (CEO) of AMR’s parent company, Emergency Medical Services Corporation, has stepped in as interim president.
Bruning, 54, began his 30-year career at AMR as an EMT and holds the distinction of being the first field caregiver to ever lead that company. “As a general rule, [corporate leaders] have never worked in the field; never got up at 2 a.m. to run a call,” says Randy Strozy, CEO, AMR Air Ambulance. “It’s a testament to his skill and strength that he rose to this level.”
After a stint in the U.S. Navy, Bruning returned to Colorado to attend college. He took an EMT class during his sophomore year and, shortly thereafter, joined A-1 Paramedics/AMR as an EMT. Starting at minimum wage and working many hours of overtime to make ends meet and to hone his craft, Bruning soon went on to paramedic school and continued his EMS career in Colorado Springs, the community where he grew up.
Bruning took his experiences with him as he rose through the ranks at AMR, serving as a vice president and later, as CEO of the company’s central division, where he was acknowledged for his efforts to improve patient care and streamline customer service at the local level. Bruning helped take a disjointed community of EMS providers and create a robust, system-wide EMS authority that still serves the Colorado Springs community. He also helped to establish an annual charity golf event that continues to benefit EMS training programs throughout the state.
In 2008, Bruning became AMR’s executive vice president. He was named president in May 2009. In addition, he served as the president of the Emergency Medical Services Association of Colorado (EMSAC). In 2005, Bruning was awarded the Peg Hamilton Award by the EMSAC Board of Directors for outstanding service to the association and its members.
“I’ve had a great career,” Bruning says. “I’ve had so many amazing mentors along the way, from the very start, as an EMT through field supervisor and on through all of my various leadership positions.”
In 2004, he got a big break when AMR selected him to participate in an exclusive accelerated development leadership program. He was assigned a mentor—Sanger. “I was given a lot of one-on-one time with him and the opportunity to learn from his 40 years of successful leadership in healthcare,” Bruning says of Sanger.
In 2007, Bruning earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Shortly thereafter, Sanger asked him to lead AMR.
As a leader, Bruning brought a medical and clinical focus to AMR and provided the impetus for collaborative ventures such as the “Caring for Maria” project, a program with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) to increase process reliability.
He also created new, clinical positions at the top of the corporation and hired Edward M. Racht, MD, to serve as AMR’s chief medical officer.
“Mark sees EMS as a critical part of the healthcare delivery system,” Racht says “That’s a key cultural and philosophical approach.”
The net effect, Racht believes, is a change in AMR’s corporate character. “He has taught all of us the value of passionately pursuing clinical excellence with operational skill. He’s has cultivated an AMR family,” he says.
Racht maintains that Bruning’s influence has extended beyond AMR. “I think he’s had a profound impact on the practice of EMS,” he says. By promoting the triple aim of the IHI, Bruning has insisted that “the practice of medicine must be superb, the patient experience excellent and the business must be sound and sustainable,” Racht says. “He cares deeply about people and has always sent a powerful message to caregivers about the impact they have on people’s lives.”
As Bruning reflects on his 30-year career at AMR, he calls it a “great ride.”
“I have had my share of challenges, but far more opportunities to work with amazing people and to be part of so many incredible experiences I never imagined possible. I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in EMS,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
He says that he leaves this phase of his life in a good place. He still lives near Colorado Springs and looks forward to spending time with his family, especially his youngest child, who is still at home. “Family often gets the short end of the deal for a person who gets into these roles,” he says. Although they have been supportive and understanding, they have paid a price.
Bruning says that he doesn’t know what the future might bring, but he hopes that it involves healthcare in some fashion. “I’d like to stay in healthcare, whether it’s in EMS or not,” he says. However, it’s clear that he has a passion for EMS. “I think EMS is in the most extraordinary position. If [it] takes all the things it does well, and applies them to keeping patients healthier and in the hospital less often, we are not only going to be just fine, we are going to be a bigger player in the broader healthcare world,” he says.
Although change is difficult, AMR Vice President of Clinical Practices and Research Scott Bourn, PhD, RN, EMT-P, believes that both AMR and Bruning will thrive. He commends Bruning for handling a difficult situation with remarkable grace.
“I think this could be a fabulous move for AMR and a fabulous move for Mark, even though it doesn’t look like it right now,” he says. “Part of the challenge in EMS is that the sand is constantly shifting under our feet. Changes in healthcare reform and reimbursement issues must be balanced against patient care and the bottom line, creating a complex arena in which to work. At the end of the day, a decision was made to change leaders,” he says. “The good news is that AMR is very well-positioned for success going forward, and that’s because of Mark’s leadership.”
The best legacy, says Strozyk, is to leave a place better than you found it. “Mark has done that,” he says.
According to Racht, everyone at AMR is watching to see what Bruning does next, “because he will make significant change wherever he goes,” he says. In the meantime, Bruning will continue serve in an advisory capacity at AMR.
AMR provides medical transportation services in 40 states and the District of Columbia, employing more than 17,000 AMR paramedics, EMTs, RNs and other professionals, and transports more than three million patients nationwide annually. AMR is a subsidiary of Emergency Medical Services Corporation. In 2011, EMSC was purchased by an affiliate of Clayton Dubilier & Rice, a private equity firm.