Leadership: Sean Russell, President, REACH Air Medical Services

“It’s a very unifying mission and purpose that we’re here for. We’re blessed to come to work every day and do what we do. That’s the ‘easy’ part, because it’s such a neat mission.”

To Sean, who is “the customer”?

“Everybody is our customer. Ultimately, the end customer is the patient, but there are so many other customers along the way. It starts with our staff and extends to every person we interact with. It’s the community at large.”

How does he connect with the customer?

“We have to keep our focus on each customer, give them our full attention. In our world, the customer that is easiest to put at the center of our attention is the patient. That responsibility is easy to embrace. But it’s crucial to take a step back and understand who the customer is at any given moment, and to make sure we understand what they need and what they value.”

Sean adds, “And for me, servant leadership is crucial—finding a way to serve those that carry out the mission, along with finding solutions for the customers.”

Sean on customer service and REACH

“The way I currently view customer service is based on a few main things,” Sean says. “Executing on service delivery, first and foremost; we need to do what we say. Also finding solutions for our customers, which requires listening well. And we should not just meet but exceed our customers’ needs, including when that customer is another provider.”

Sean is proud of how far REACH has come in terms of customer service, admitting that it was not a strong suit in the early days. “But in retrospect, it is easy to understand why,” he says. “It’s because we didn’t have to be. We didn’t have any competition. Dr. McDonald was so far ahead of his time as a founder and a mentor. And since he believed in always doing what’s right for the patient, sometimes we would offend a customer along the way. The best thing that every happened to us over time was growth and competition because we recognized that we also needed to focus on customer service and service delivery.”

Sean Russell circa 1988 Sean Russell circa 1988

To illustrate…

“I was Administrator on Call—this was about 15 years ago—and there was a gentleman at Redwood Coast Medical Center who was having a heart attack and needed transport. The crew was at his bedside, but he wouldn’t get on the helicopter. He told them, ‘I’d rather die right here than straddle my family with a bill that they’ll be paying off for years to come.’ So…I gave him my word that we would transport him and that he would not receive a bill. He was transported, he survived and he got to go home. And he wasn’t billed.”

“There was also a time when we received a transport request for two critical neonatal premies in Sonora. We dispatched two helicopters. But the babies were so sick that we opted to send a third helicopter to Oakland, where we picked up a neonatologist to be with the patients. This is an example of our Mission Statement in action – ‘In every situation, do what is right for the patient.’ If we continue to follow that principle value then each of us will be doing the right thing for our customers.”