Physician’s Exchange, The history of a great ambulance company.

Physicians Exchange Inc Kansas City Missouri “The history of a great Ambulance Company”

Mable Mallon was one of the first Red Cross nurses at Fort Riley during the WWI flu pandemic and missed coming down with the flu herself but during her time at Fort Riley she became a great card player.

Physicians Exchange was started in the early 1920s as a private duty nurse’s registry by Mabel Mallon who as a nurse saw a need for a registry of nurses.

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In the mid 1920’s after honing her card playing skills Mabel won an ambulance in a poker game playing a hand against Jerry Ringelsbee, then owner of Missouri Ambulance.

Now having an ambulance, Mabel was able to expand her nurse’s registry by adding and operating an ambulance service, thus the creation of Physicians Exchange Ambulance Service.

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(above) Physicians Exchange Nurses registry circa 1920’s This was Physicians Exchange’s first location in Kansas City Mo. With a growing list of registered nurses and “home care” calls Physicians Exchange was already on its way to establishing itself as the “go to” source for nurse’s care and nursing employment in Kansas City.

With the added ambulance service, Physicians Exchange started to grow adding additional ambulances and staff. Some of the early ambulances that Physicians Exchanged operated.

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(Above) Henney Ambulance, ca. 1927

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(above) Mabel Mallon and her crew in front of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City Missouri

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(above) 1928 Packard Series 443 Sedan Ambulance /Limousine

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(above) Mabel Mallon sitting in rear of 1928 Packard Series 443 Sedan Ambulance /Limousine with satin sheets on the stretcher which Mabel sewed herself

Not long after the addition of ambulance service, Physicians Exchange also began to lease funeral hearses and limousines. With the expansion of the ambulance service and additional livery service, Physicians Exchange was experiencing positive growth, which resulted in the need of a new location. Their second location in Kansas City Mo. was chosen for its location and added garage for their growing fleet of vehicles. Physicians Exchange was now located in the heart of Kansas City Missouri. Centrally located near several hospitals, Physicians Exchange was strategically located to better serve and transport patients.

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(Seen above) Physicians Exchanges Ambulance Service and their 1935 Sayers & Scovill Olympian eight-column carved-panel hearse

This Sayers & Scovill model was introduced in 1934: the car in this photo has the 1935 S&S Clifton-style hood: this was a transitional model. Later in 1935 S&S introduced a fully streamlined Corinthian carved hearse which had this same style hood with horizontal hood louvers. (Vehicle information provided by Walt McCall) You can see the last letters of the company name “Physicians Exchange” on the window to the left. Notice the Coca Cola refrigerator on the sidewalk behind the Carved Hearse.

As with all the hearses in the livery there was a slot on either side to affix a plaque or metal script bearing the name of the funeral home that rented it. Plaques and script bearing names of all the funeral homes in town hung on the wall of the Physicians Exchange garage and were attached by the porter when he readied the cars for a service. This is the reason the carved panel hearse bears a name other than Physicians Exchange.

Some of the funeral homes that rented livery vehicles from Physicians Exchange included O’Donnell, Sheil, Blackman, Freeman, Wallace, and McGilley Funeral Homes.

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(Above) Image is Physician’s Exchange taken in the famous city wide Tax Assessment of 1940. Image credit: Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

There is very little known about this location and when Physicians Exchange took occupancy but this image is of the 3100 block of Main Street in 1940. Physician’s Exchange did operate for almost 10 years at 3130 Main Street. This is photo 11-34-10 of parcel #38, District 11, block 34 which indicates this image was taken on Main Street. Therefore it’s with great certainty that this is Physician’s Exchange third location at 3130 Main Street.

You will notice the window also is painted with a medical cross insignia and the name Physician’s is barely legible. Therefore this was not just a painted advertisement on the side of a wall which was common in those days.

By the early fifties Mabel’s daughter Dorothy and her husband George Stroot took over with George Stroot running the operation.

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Physicians Exchanged continued on its steady growth adding newer vehicles and staff to provide better service to the Kansas City area in which they serviced.

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During the 1940’s Physicians Exchange operated a fleet of ambulances. This fleet photo above shows left to right, 1940 Plymouth Seven-Passenger Sedan, 1939 Plymouth Seven-Passenger, Another 1939 Plymouth, Seven-Passenger, 1934 Ford, 1939 Oldsmobile

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During the early 1950’s Physicians Exchange had an ambulance on standby at Olympic Stadium (Above) where midget car races were held. Mabel Mallon is pictured on the left. Notice this particular 1940 Plymouth 7-Passenger Ambulance has a louver window option on the driver’s side rear passenger’s compartment window.
Ever growing, Physicians Exchange began outgrowing their current location and George Stroot took on the task of building a larger facility that included a two story administrative building and a larger garage for their growing fleet of vehicles.

Located now at 2826 Main Street, their new building which was completed around 1950 backed up to St. Mary’s Hospital which was just a block away from their old location. The WWI Liberty Memorial is also located less than a block away and located along Main Street. This new facility was much larger than the previous one and had a large round-top garage with a single drive through entrance off Main Street. The “Tunnel” as they referred to it as was where the cars passed through from Main Street to the rear garage. Physicians Exchange also operated their new radio dispatch center from this new location.

By the 1960’s Physicians Exchange was operating a full fleet of radio dispatched ambulances which allowed them to station their ambulances around Kansas City at strategic locations. This advantage allowed even further growth as their main location became more of a hub for their livery service and housed just a few ambulances. Working with the city, Physicians Exchange negotiated the use of fire stations and other public buildings.

By the 1970’s one fire house was located at 63rd and Prospect near the large Research Medical Center hospital complex, and another located on Red Bridge Road. This was an actual working fire station-KCFD Station #42. These proved to be very beneficial.

In 1967 Physicians Exchange also entered into an agreement with Prairie Village Kansas to operate their ambulance service. Physicians Exchange provided an on call ambulance to Prairie Village in the form of their 1965 Flxible Buick short wheel base 42’’ ambulance. (This was the only car of its kind built by Flxible for 1965 before the Flxible Company sold off its professional car division in January of 1965)

Mr. Stroot was very active in Sertoma and other civic organizations. His ambulances frequently served upper class citizens in upscale neighborhoods. He always insisted that all of his ambulances were solid black in color but the ’65 Buick Flxible was the very first grey ambulance. The Prairie Village ambulance was stationed in Prairie Village during the day, 5 days a week and staffed by Ralph McGowan and Jim Brown. The entire metropolitan area was served from 2826 Main at night and on weekends.

In 1968 Prairie Village had a public works building (a covered parking garage with open sides) where they parked their city vehicles. The city enclosed one end and had a “Ready Room”, a bunk room and a one car garage finished out so they could begin full-time ambulance service. When the construction of this ambulance location was finished in early 1968 Physicians Exchange sent one of their new 1968 Oldsmobile C/B 48” high-top Ambulance unit #108 there for assignment and it was operated by Gary Hunter and his partner Jeff.

During the 1960’s Physicians Exchange operated a mix of vehicles by different manufactures. Their fleet included a 1961 Buick Short Wheelbase Flxible combination, solid black in color and a 1963 Buick Short Wheelbase Flxible combination, solid black in color. In the early 1960’s Flxible was their choice of vehicles but that changed by the mid 1960’s

In 1966 Physicians Exchange purchased three new 1966 Fleetwood 75 limousines for their livery service which were solid black in color. Also purchased were two 1966 Cadillac MM 3-way table funeral coaches which were also solid black. Also part of the fleet was a 1964 Miller Meteor Cadillac combination in solid black that had removable panels on the rear quarter windows. This vehicle was used as a hearse in the livery service and as an ambulance for out of town transfers so not to cause a shortage of regular ambulances. In 1966 three Oldsmobile C/B Seville short wheel base combinations – Color – Grey were purchased.

By early 1968, 3 new Cotner-Bevington hightops in red and white colored liveries were in use while Cadillac Miller Meteor three way casket table cars and Cadillac 75 series limousines were used in the livery service in all black.

These new 1968 Cotner-Bevington hightops ambulances would come in handy during the April 9th Kansas City Riots that were fueled by the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. This was a very turbulent and dangerous time in the city’s history and anger in many inner city areas was ramped. The paramedics at all the ambulance companies in Kansas City were on high alert and fearful of possible retaliation.

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(Above) Physician’s Exchange 1968 48” Oldsmobile Cotner-Bevington hightop Ambulance. Note the application of the cast name plate located on the car’s door opposed to in the rear side windows which was often standard practice Mr. Stroot felt this added a sense of “class” to the vehicles and was a tradition carried over from the early days when they also used similar name plates on the doors of their carved panel hearse and the other vehicles in the livery

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(Above) Physician’s Exchange 1968 48” Oldsmobile Cotner-Bevington hightop Ambulance

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(above) Physician’s Exchange Ambulance service headquarters in 1969 located at 2826 Main Street Kansas City Missouri. St. Mary’s Hospital in the background. This would be Physician’s Exchange final location which had served the company for almost 25 years.

During the 1960’s and early 1970’s Clint Cole who was a regional Miller Meteor and Cotner-Bevington sales distributor for the Wayne Corporation and operated his business “Cole Miller Coach Company” out of a first floor office at Physicians Exchange Ambulance service.

This partnership helped both parties as when Physicians Exchange needed new vehicles they didn’t have to look very far, as well as Mr. Cole helped sell off the older fleet vehicles when Physicians Exchange took them out of service.

Physicians Exchange was a leader in innovation and technology by the mid 1960’s adding services to include oxygen delivery, a two-way radio service, answering service, air ambulance and more.

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(Above) 1960’s Physicians Exchange promotional Post Card

By the late 1960’s George Stroots daughter June and her husband Eugene Desaulniers took over daily operations. Under June and Eugene’s direction Physicians Exchange continued to grow. In 1969 George Stroot passed away.

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During the 1960’s Physicians Exchange in conjunction with Jack Stillwell operated one of the first private air ambulance services in the states of Kansas and Missouri. Their air ambulances were operated out of Independence airport and were radio dispatched.

In 1969 the furthering advancement of medical technology for ambulances saw the advent of state of the art telemetry to communicate with ER doctors and with drugs and equipment that could save lives. Therefore a new type of better equipped ambulance was needed. In 1969 Physicians Exchange, needing new special ambulances, commissioned Miller Meteor to help them with their needs.

In 1969 delivering a rare optioned Cadillac Miller Meteor for the region that included Tunnel lights was the first step but this didn’t work due to limited patient compartment storage for medical equipment and supplies since it was a limousines style with rear quarter panel glass windows. This 1969 M&M Cadillac ambulance was assigned to Emmett Sandifer who worked with Physicians Exchange for 21 years, and his partner Tom Whalen.

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(above) Physicians Exchange’s new 1969 Miller Meteor with special optioned tunnel lights, again note the cast name plates located on the doors instead of inside the rear side windows

Miller Meteor then provided a special 1969 Cadillac Miller Meteor Landau hightop ambulance that included a special rear lip overhang similar to what were on the original Miller Meteor Guardian Ambulances of the early 60’s. This special 1969 Miller Meteor landau ambulance could be considered the predecessor to what would eventually become the Miller Meteor Criterion line of ambulances because it was the first that had the rear side windows blocked off just like the later Criterion’s. What made this particular ambulance even more like the later Criterion’s it too had the rear side window directly behind the driver blocked off thus leaving no windows on the driver’s side except the driver’s window.

Although this special one-off ambulance was very nice, and the interior patient compartment had a lot more storage than other ambulances it was still not sufficient in size to accommodate all the new technology and have an attendant comfortably move freely about. It’s reported that this special Ambulance didn’t stay with Physicians Exchange and was either sold to or then owned by Hadley Reimel of Independence Ambulance Service who was friends and later business partners with Eugene Desaulniers in their joint venture Ambulance Services Inc.

Something newer and larger was still needed. Miller Meteor who had always manufactured only professional cars based on passenger vehicles commissioned their first “prototype” 1969 Chevrolet Van which Physicians Exchange put into use. Miller Meteor would never produce or market any other van ambulances under the actual Miller Meteor name although the Wayne Corporation was now producing ambulances based off Chevy Suburban’s which were called “Sentinel Ambulances” starting for the 1968 model year. Wayne Corporation shifted their actual van ambulance production to “Vanguard” Chevrolet vans and using Dodge Tradesman vans until the introduction of the “Medi-cruiser” Dodge vans for 1973.

In the research for this article Tom Caserta was contacted and asked his recollection of any special ambulances for 1969 or his relation with Eugene Desaulniers. Tom worked at Miller-Meteor at the time and explained he was a dear friend of Eugene Desaulniers and in fact said it was Eugene who helped open his eyes to the real workings of the ambulance service, which eventually led to big changes in the way Miller Meteor and Cotner-Bevington made and sold professional cars.

Tom Caserta was originally sent to Blytheville, Arkansas in 1967 to learn how the professional cars were built as he was positioned to become a service manager. This was said to be training to help him better understand how the cars were assembled but it was then announced the entire division of Cotner-Bevington would be shut down by late 1968. Through Tom’s hard work and the increased sales he was able to help ensure a substantial increase in vehicle sales which caused Divco-Wayne to change their mind on closing the Cotner-Bevington Division.

Tom credits Physicians Exchange Ambulance service with a large early purchase of 1968 model Cotner-Bevington Ambulances as one factor in helping Cotner-Bevington meet their sales quotas needed to keep the C/B division open. Tom Caserta asserts that if Eugene Desaulniers hadn’t been so loyal to the Cotner-Bevington brand and hadn’t ordered all those vehicles in early 1968 through Clint Cole, it was very possible Cotner-Bevington wouldn’t have met their sales quotas and would have ceased to exist after 1968.

During 1968 while stationed in Blytheville, Arkansas Tom Caserta was responsible for overseeing the production of the all new Sentinel Suburban Ambulance and general Cotner-Bevingtons. Physicians Exchange Ambulance Service was one of their largest and best Cotner-Bevington / Miller Meteor customers in the Midwest. At the behest of Clint Cole, Eugene Desaulniers invited Tom Caserta and his wife up to Kansas City where Eugene invited Tom to ride along in the ambulance on a few calls to get an idea of what was in fact needed.

Eugene explained to Tom that he had seen the Miller Meteor Sentinel Suburban Ambulances but argued at their interior layout. Eugene explained any critical care patient would be on the stretcher and not on the bench. He went on to explain that the built-in pillow on the bench seat which was originally intended to provide comfort for any patient riding on the bench was actually a huge hindrance as if there was a need to aspirate the patient and tilt their head back that the built-in pillow prevented this. Eugene went on to explain and point out a great many points of observation that Tom Caserta noted including the need to add a built in jump seat onto the actual bench so if the bench seat was in use by a patient the ambulance attendant had a place to sit, but if not in use then the jump seat could be folded down and out of the way. Upon returning to Arkansas Tom contacted Vern Allen, the then Vice President of operations at Divco-Wayne and had an important conversation with him regarding what one of their best customers had shared with him.

It was in fact this trip to Kansas City and other comments in the sales field that led Tom Caserta asking Vern Allen for the green light to use Miller Meteor Cadillac parts and jump seats inside the Sentinel Suburban Ambulance to which Vern Allen was at first was adamantly against. Mr. Allen argued that using Cadillac parts on lesser models would hurt the prestige of the Cadillac name and the options that went with them. Mr. Allen finally relented knowing Tom Caserta was well versed in what was needed to sell professional vehicles and allowed these parts to be used is if there was a way to increase sales and possibly hiding the fact these were more upscale parts used on their Cadillac line. That and the fact one of their best customers was asking for these special options.

With such slow sales in the first year of the Sentinel Suburban sales Vern Allen bet $100.00 Dollars to Tom’s 1 dollar that Tom would not make the 1969 sales quota of 200 Sentinel Suburban Ambulance sales. After the trip to Kansas City and hearing first hand during riding in the Physicians Exchange Ambulance with Eugene, Tom Caserta was able to use what he learned and passed that onto the sales reps. In early 1969 due to the new Miller Meteor parts being allowed and a change in how the cars were now marketed Tom Caserta saw a firm order of 125 Suburban’s and eventually went on to beat to sales quota and win the bet, all of which he credits to his trip to Physicians Exchange Ambulance Service and riding those calls with Eugene Desaulniers.

By June of 1969 Tom Caserta with his great success with sales in Arkansas was reassigned back to Piqua Ohio at the Miller Meteor Headquarters. Cotner-Bevington went on to sell professional vehicles until 1975. On a side note during the discussion with Tom Caserta it was also revealed that in 1969 Miller Meteor also built in their secret and highly restricted “engineering and Experimental” department across the street from the main Miller Meteor factory a special “Disaster Unit” ambulance which was a large RV type ambulance. Only one prototype and one actual unit were ever manufactured. The one unit was sold to a Red Cross type of disaster unit and the fate of the prototype is unknown.

Physician’s Exchange purchased two Sentinel Suburban’s; one in 1970 and another in 1971. These were very well made units and very durable. Their major problem was that if you put a patient in the vehicle with a Hare traction splint in place, the rear doors would not close and you would need to load the cot feet first to be able to shut the rear doors. Spec-KKK-1822A spelled the end of the Suburban Sentinel line.

By 1973 Physicians Exchange would no longer use passenger based ambulances and opt for an all Dodge Medicruiser’s fleet and modular box type ambulances thus ending an era of the old passenger based professional cars.

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(above) Physicians Exchange early Dodge Van Ambulance in action.

Around this time, with all the skilled medics returning from Vietnam, Eugene Desaulniers as the president of Physicians Exchange lobbied hard to require trained and licensed paramedics and E.M.Ts for all emergency calls. Because of his activism an enrollment in the very first Paramedics training course Governor Kit Bond awarded him the first paramedic license in the state of Missouri. Physicians Exchange also strove to be a leader and break barriers in other areas including employing minorities and the first female paramedics.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Eugene Desaulniers continued to strive for improvements in treating and transporting medical patients. Understanding the complexities of a large city with a multitude of various ambulance services which competed against each other, and which often times caused confusion to city residents, Eugene felt better medical service could still be achieved. Never putting profits before the priority of a medical patients Eugene met with several competitors including Larry Hughes of Acme Ambulance in Kansas City and Hadley Reimel of Independence, MO. who operated an ambulance company.

This meeting would eventually result in these men buying out Community Ambulance Service and combining their own companies together into a single company and thus the formation of Ambulance Services Inc was launched. With this new larger more equipped company they were granted the first city wide ambulance service contract that was awarded to handle all the city’s emergency response calls. By the late 1970’s Ambulance Services Inc had over 100 employees and a large fleet of modern state of the art Modular and van ambulances. Other smaller ambulance services who felt pushed to the side to only handle non-emergency transport calls were frustrated and angered. One ambulance service even sued the new Ambulance Service Inc and the City of Kansas City in what they called an unfair trade monopoly that in effect put them out of business and excluded them from doing business within the city.

A judge ruled in favor of Ambulance Services Inc and relieved the City of Kansas City of any wrong doing in awarding the contract. The ruling listed the fact that Ambulance Services Inc was founded by several companies with the main goal of putting the people of the city first by providing the best medical care and transportation possible. Ambulance Services Inc was the only ambulance service that was able to provide city wide service with the number of ambulances, employees and equipment needed and therefore there was no other choice the city had but to award Ambulance Services Inc. the city wide contract.

In 1979 Metropolitan Ambulance Services Trust (“MAST”) a non-profit EMS agency was created. The city of Kansas City then purchased all private ambulance services operating within the city limits of Kansas City, Missouri. MAST became the sole provider of pre-hospital emergency and non-emergency transport services in Kansas City, Missouri. The MAST Board of Trustees was appointed by the Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri and provided oversight of the MAST System.

Ambulance Services Inc sold all their assets to the city of Kansas City while Eugene Desaulniers was able to sell the old Physicians Exchange building to St. Mary’s hospital which then used the building for records storage until the hospital itself closed. St Mary’s and the old Physicians Exchange building were closed, sold and demolished around 1993 to make way for the new Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank campus which sits where they were once located.

On April 25, 2010, MAST was merged into the Kansas City Fire Department to operate as one municipal services department

In December of 2013 at almost 90 years of age Eugene Desaulniers provided many of the details that are contained within this article. Special thanks go to author Walt McCall for providing the vehicle descriptions on all the wonderful vintage vehicles contained in the images herein. A VERY special thanks to Tom Caserta with his help verifying the information regarding the Special one-off Miller Meteor ambulance and the wonderful recollection of his visit to Kansas City and his day in the ambulance with his good friend Eugene Desaulniers. After this article was originally posted and seen by Jim Brown who worked for Physicians Exchange, Jim was able to provide additional details and images that were added. My special thanks to Jim for these wonderful and greatly appreciated additions, especially the added images that were thought to be long lost. The photos herein are the property of the Desaulniers family and Jim Brown and are used with their permission. Any reproduction or use of these photos outside of this article, are strictly forbidden without prior permission from their owners.

The people of Kansas City Missouri owe Physicians Exchange a great deal of gratitude for the wonderful contributions to Kansas City and the medical ambulance profession as a whole. Our hats are off to you.

Mr. Eugene Desaulniers passed away on July 8, 2014 and this article is dedicated in his memory.
Thank you Eugene for all the wonderful contributions you made to this world. You will be greatly missed!

1 thought on “Physician’s Exchange, The history of a great ambulance company.”

  1. This was like stepping back in time when I first started in EMS at Physicians Exchange
    Jan.1969 . Was able to become EMT-A . 1970 paramedic KU Med. It laid down the best foundation for a full career, In EMS 2010 retired .

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