When Joan Woehrmann founded an ambulance company in Whittier in 1955, she looked for a name that would be easy to remember--especially in an emergency--and one that would represent her desire to help those in need of medical service.
She decided on A.i.d.s. Ambulance Co. The four-letter acronym, she said, stood for "attitude, integrity, dependability and service."
Little did she know that years later, the initials would stand for something else: acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a deadly disease that destroys the body's immune system.
"Our drivers started to get harassment," Woehrmann, chief administrative/financial officer, said this week, adding that they were often taunted by passers-by who assumed that the company transported only AIDS victims.
She said that an avalanche of AIDS publicity since July, when actor Rock Hudson announced that he was suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (the actor died Oct. 2), caused more misunderstandings. Some people saw the company's listing in the phone book and called for AIDS information, thinking it was a hot line.
On one occasion, Woehrmann said, ambulance workers went to a high school to pick up an injured person and some onlookers thought he was an AIDS sufferer.
A turning point came in August, when a patient refused to get into an ambulance because neighbors told him he risked contracting the disease.
"We felt then we had to do something," Woehrmann's husband, Bob, said.
Even though the company's corporate name since 1971 was Aids Medical Enterprises Inc., the A.i.d.s. logo was used on all the ambulances, stationery, promotional items and advertising.
But now the company is changing the name to AME. Woehrmann said she expects the phase-in to be completed by January. The switch involves repainting the 40-ambulance fleet, changing its personalized license plates (which read AIDS 1, AIDS 2, etc). and printing new logos on a host of items at a cost of about $30,000.