Physical therapy centers growing to meet demand

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Published: December 12,2005

Baby Boomers refusing to slow down and young athletes pushing their bodies to physical limits have created a burgeoning market for physical therapists.

“Definitely the middle-age athletic population has increased exponentially,” said Dr. Buddy Savoie, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries at the Mississippi Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Jackson. “Most of those people are still in a very busy phase, and having therapy in-house is good for them because they can get one program to incorporate into their regular workout schedule and not have to attend therapy three or four days a week.”

Because of the pressure to excel in sports, dramatically increased training techniques and non-stop physical activity, physical therapists are seeing more severe injuries in high school students than a decade ago.

“We used to see these types of injuries primarily in professional athletes, but kids recognize it takes year-round training to compete because if they take a rest, someone else will get their spot,” said Savoie. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to slow down athletes. We’ll have to work harder to better train them in injury prevention.”

Because of escalating healthcare costs and concern about the time required for rehabilitation, some athletes postpone seeing a doctor until it’s too late. “I only operate on 10% of the people who come through the door,” said Savoie. “The earlier we get to you after an injury, the more likely we are to get you well without an operation.”

Rusty Yates, CFO of Brookhaven-based Human Performance Centers, co-founded the company in 1992 with a single clinic geared toward return-to-work type therapy. Today, the company has three physical therapy centers in the metro Jackson area, and four in Southwest Mississippi, handling all types of physical and occupational therapies, from pediatrics to geriatrics, including Medicare, sports medicine, and with contracts with hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

“Now we have a broad-based general practice, which still includes a focus on industrial companies, getting workers back to work,” said Yates.

Human Performance Centers also offers a pre-placement, post-offer test nationwide for new hires to ensure they have the physical ability to meet the demands of the job and that they do not have pre-existing conditions that would put them at risk. The company has clinics in 12 states using this testing protocol.

“Everybody talks about the high cost of healthcare, but the biggest problem is that our business is regulated by fee schedules, from Medicare telling us what they’ll pay to insurance companies wanting preferred provider discounts to going by the workers’ comp fee schedule that was developed in 1997,” said Yates. “The trend is to find ways to become more profitable by keeping costs down and finding new markets. You have to squeeze and make ends meet. At the end of the day, there’s a fine line between the business of therapy and the higher calling of healing.”

Cris Bourn, MHSPT, director of in-patient rehabilitation services at St. Dominic Health Services, established in 1946, said physical therapy is becoming more active in wellness and preventive type injuries. “We’re not just working with patients while they’re acutely ill or injured, but we’re also transitioning them to lifelong wellness as consultants,” he said.

This fall, St. Dominic opened Dominican Plaza, a 84,000-square-foot, six-story complex at the corner of Lakeland Drive and I-55 South Frontage Road, combining the hospital’s outpatient services, including physical and occupational therapy programs, and Healthline, St. Dominic’s Community Health Service’s membership-based total wellness and fitness center.

“We’re encompassing the concept of wellness for those people who have been ill, such as those recovering from a stroke, or injured, perhaps from some type of orthopedic injury,” said Barry Plunkett, vice president of St. Dominic Health Services. “That’s why we hope there will be a real positive synergy between outpatient physical therapy, which is a prescribed modality, and the individual-motivated exercise routine. In the middle is a bubble that transitions people from one side to the other, with professionals available to help throughout.”

Mississippi’s pool of qualified physical therapists has caught the attention of recruiters nationwide, said Diedre McGowan, PhD., CAE, executive director of the Mississippi Physical Therapists Association. “Right after Hurricane Katrina, I had about 100 physical therapy clinics offering temporary help while also actively recruiting displaced physical therapists, from as far away as Maine and Washington state,” she said. “As the population ages, the demand will continue to increase.”

To remain competitive, physical therapy clinics are paying competitive salaries and benefits. St. Dominic also offers continuing education and tuition assistance to physical therapists, especially those who want a doctorate.

In June, the University of Mississippi Medical Center instituted a three-year doctoral program for physical therapists.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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