Reflecting on PTS’ Beginning, Struggles, and Victories
On one evening in November 1998, Diana Fongheiser and I made two very important decisions. One—that, as we made decisions about the business, we would always put the needs of children first. And two—that we would not be just another pediatric therapy staffing company. What was the point of starting PTS if we were going to do things the same old way?
When we set these priorities, Diana and I never imagined we would end up running a company of over nearly 300 pediatric clinicians across over a dozen counties in Pennsylvania and northern Delaware.
We never anticipated this great success because our beginning was so small. There was no venture capital or crowdfunding. Just a lot of long days and late nights, working away in our basements. The lack of outside financial backers allowed us to maintain our focus of differentiating our name from our competitors.
Diana is the mother of a son with special needs. I am a pediatric physical therapist who was born with a cleft lip and palate and received speech therapy in elementary school. Our personal histories have helped to shape the culture and values of PTS. Living with or around someone with a disability helped shape who we are as a company. Based on these experiences, we learned that students, regardless of disability, want to be active participants in the community.
Growing Pains—Technology Comes to the Rescue
As the company grew, Diana and I found ourselves impacting thousands of students throughout the region. With this, an issue arose. With hundreds of therapists spread across eastern Pennsylvania, we could not keep an eye on everything happening at once. How could we maintain the same quality that had secured our initial success? How could we control the cost of services when there were so many moving parts?
This need for accountability drove the creation of our award-winning BudgetWatch™ technology. With BudgetWatch™, our therapists’ billing information gets entered into a relational database. Data collection allows us to evaluate every aspect of our therapy and related services programs. We also developed a dashboard for PTS that helped us ensure we delivered on our promises everywhere we served.
“Bad Times” Can Bring Good Results
In the long-run, many of our biggest corporate challenges, like the 2008 financial crisis, ended up being a catalyst for innovation.
When the recession began, PTS’ capability to manage programs and control related services costs lead to a period of rapid growth for the company. Our ability to pinpoint misused resources allowed the management team to make appropriate changes. As a result, we maximized the impact of every therapy dollar spent. At a time when other businesses were shrinking or disappearing altogether, our company managed to double in size.
Sharing Pediatric Therapy Knowledge to Empower Others
The financial crisis also taught us that the needs of students do not shrink with the budget. During this time, our therapists were asked to provide more services for far less money. We needed to think outside the box when it came how we delivered pediatric therapy.
Equipping teachers, parents, and paraprofessionals involved in special education programs became a top corporate priority. We developed free online resource libraries and a series of in-service trainings, so staff could implement the therapeutic strategies our clinicians were using. Empowering teachers with these skills helped turn classrooms into therapeutic environments, and parents loved being part of the process.
We also gave school administrators key resources, such as access to PTS Program Summaries, to help them manage their special education team and budget.
Closing the Gap
Not all students who are referred actually qualify for therapy under pediatric special education law. Teachers and therapists can become frustrated by the inability to help struggling students who fall into this gap.
In recent years, PTS has invested heavily in methods of delivering therapy without a therapist. This includes a line of therapist-developed games and activities and pre-referral handwriting and sensory programs. As we invested in effective, low-cost ways to support these students, our client costs actually dropped! Using these tools, part of the multi-tiered systems of support approach (MTSS), enabled PTS to create a safety net for thousands of children who may have otherwise fallen through the cracks.
As we wrap up PTS’ 20th year in business, I feel nothing but gratitude for this journey. Diana has been an amazing business partner, with the perfect combination of heart and business savvy. We have an outstanding corporate team and are privileged to work with some of the top clinicians in the region. Together, we are changing the lives of countless students through pediatric therapy and related services—and what could be better than that?