Pair brings ‘physical therapy to small neighborhoods’

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Dennis and Judy Dougherty oversee 19 locations for Physical Therapy at St.Luke’s, which may add three more facilities in the next couple of years.
Dennis and Judy Dougherty oversee 19 locations for Physical Therapy at St.Luke’s, which may add three more facilities in the next couple of years. - (Photo By JENNIFER GLOSE)

Behind the 10-year success of Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s is a husband-and-wife team of physical therapists that never imagined the cultivation that would come out of what was once a small partnership.

Dennis and Judy Dougherty built a Lehigh Valley entrepreneurship together nearly 30 years ago, owning a physical therapy practice and two physical therapy rehabilitation centers. Today, they are reaping the rewards of perseverance, a commitment to their community and a long-standing partnership with one of the largest health networks in the region.

The result is the 19-location strong Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s.

“Our vision has always been to have a neighborhood-based physical therapy facility and make it convenient to where people live and work,” said Judy Dougherty, chief operating officer of Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s.

In 1998, St. Luke’s University Health Network signed the Doughertys to operate the network’s Quakertown physical therapy outpatient facility (the health network managed another PT facility in Bethlehem).

Within two years, the Doughertys helped St. Luke’s to add physical therapy offices in Coopersburg, Hellertown and Wind Gap, bringing its total PT locations to five.

The Doughertys continued managing the St. Luke’s facilities for 13 years, while also operating their own physical therapy practice, until selling the practice and also exiting the St. Luke’s contract in 2001 to open their own PT rehabilitation facilities in Emmaus and Easton.

In 2003, St. Luke’s asked the Doughertys to return to run the newly hatched Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s. The Doughertys agreed, and their Emmaus and Easton facilities became a part of the network, too.

“It is so important for patients to have physical therapy locations close to their home,” said Dr. William DeLong, chief of orthopedics for St. Luke’s University Health Network. “Providing a safe and easy way for them to obtain treatment is essential.”

Once focusing primarily on basic physical therapy concerns, such as neck and back pain, the physical therapy facilities have added numerous specialty areas of treatment, including orthopedics, sports physical therapy and hand therapy.

“We sincerely try to personalize care,” said Dennis Dougherty, president of Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s. “Our therapists are encouraged to take ownership of their facility and use their own networking skills to connect with their community, while assessing its needs.”

Stationed at the administrative hub of Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s Hellertown location, the Doughertys use seminars and training sessions to continuously educate its staff and to maintain a constant flow of communication. Also, they provide tuition reimbursement for therapists to obtain certification or further their education.

“They [the Doughertys] are pioneers for the Lehigh Valley,” said MaryEllen Ochs, a physical therapy assistant at Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s in Center Valley.

“They took leaps of faith to bring physical therapy to small neighborhoods,” Ochs said. She is a staff member, since 1985, at St. Luke’s Quakertown location.

“There’s no secret that they [the Doughertys] are the success behind Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s,” DeLong said. “They have worked very hard and are interested in refining and improving things all the time.” St. Luke’s University Health Network also owns St. Luke’s-Miners hospital in Coaldale, Schuylkill County, and St. Luke’s-Warren hospital in New Jersey. Together, the two hospitals own and operate eight other outpatient physical therapy locations. These locations are not among the 19 operated by the Doughertys.

The Doughertys also have been instrumental in spearheading the implementation of the facilities’ orthopedic residency program, only the third of its kind in eastern Pennsylvania. The year-long program is for graduates in the physical therapy field who wish to accelerate their learning to become licensed in orthopedics. The program also is open to staff interested in become certified or in enhancing its education.

“The physical therapy profession has progressed and has become a research and evidence-based practice,” Dennis Dougherty said. “The level of education in the field has continued to increase.”

Susan Reagan in 1985 was a college-student aide at the Quakertown location of St. Luke’s and has experienced the growth of the physical therapy profession. She is now a physical therapist and the facility director of the network’s Emmaus location and one of its regional directors, in charge of a group of six of the physical therapy offices.

“The community has been educated on the benefits of physical therapy, and we in this field have now become the muscular skeletal specialists,” Reagan said.

Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s is looking at three more sites, including in Forks Township, Bath and the Poconos. The Doughertys said they also plan to expand and improve some existing facilities, as well as add more specialty areas of treatment.

“We want to help people to be able to continue being active,” Judy Dougherty said. “Today, people have multiple commitments, and physical therapy helps them accomplish those things.”

Jennifer Glose

Jennifer Glose

Reporter Jennifer Glose covers health care, Berks County and other topics. She can be reached at jenniferg@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 111. Follow her on Twitter @jenniferg_LVB and read her blog, “Networking,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/networking-blog.

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