Seven NovaCare Rehabilitation centers have opened across the Greater Lehigh Valley over the past year, part of the King of Prussia-based company’s acquisition of outpatient physical therapy facilities across the country.
NovaCare Rehabilitation more than doubled its size and became the country’s largest provider of outpatient rehab care last year when its parent company, Select Medical Corp. of Mechanicsburg, bought its major rival, Physiotherapy Associates based in Exton, Chester County, for $400 million.
NovaCare gained 600 physical therapy clinics across the country, including 90 in Pennsylvania, of which seven are in Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Montgomery and Berks counties.
NovaCare’s centers in Allentown, Macungie, Bethlehem, Northampton, Birdsboro, Gilbertsville and Collegeville had operated as Keystone Physical Therapy, which were owned by Physiotherapy Associates. NovaCare has renovated some of those offices.
Select Medical began in 1997 and has grown to be one of the largest operators of specialty hospitals, outpatient rehabilitation centers and occupational health centers in the United States. Select Medical and NovaCare now operate 1,608 outpatient rehabilitation clinics in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
BOOMERS NEED PT
The expansion comes at a time when there is a growing need for physical therapy, especially with baby boomers, who are getting joints replaced earlier in life, said Michelle Griffiths, a regional director for the Lehigh Valley.
“People are continuing to be more active later on life,” Griffiths said. “And we want to focus on getting them back to living the life they want to live.”
While maintaining its core physical therapy services, NovaCare has expanded services within the field, including for concussions and a program for patients undergoing chemotherapy who need physical therapy to strengthen physical functions that weaken as a result of treatment.
“We have a big push in our Lehigh Valley clinics for concussion therapy,” Griffiths said.
COMPETITION IS FIERCE
Frank Serino, a regional director for Berks, Montgomery and Bucks counties, said a change in Medicare regulations has opened a new area of outpatient physical therapy in home care for patients who don’t require nursing service.
Serino said while NovaCare maintains good relations with the region’s health care networks, the competition to grab more of the outpatient physical therapy market is heating up.
St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network have been opening their own in-network outpatient physical therapy offices over the past year.
“They realize the money they are leaving on the table, and they are getting smarter about ancillary services,” Serino said.
“It’s becoming more challenging to get a referral from the hospital systems. They are buying up the physical therapy practices. The hospitals see the value in owning them and keeping it in-house and containing costs.”
LOOKING TO FURTHER EXPAND
Griffiths said NovaCare’s size is an advantage because it is able to provide new opportunities for staff and patients, such as continuing education and clinical programs.
She said the company maintains “one-on-one care that usually comes with smaller clinics that are privately owned.”
Griffiths said NovaCare is looking to continue to expand in the Lehigh Valley, whether through startups or by acquiring smaller practices interested in being part of a larger organization.
NovaCare outpatient centers usually have at least two physical therapists. The Allentown office, its largest in the area, has five physical therapists.
FINDING QUALIFIED STAFF
The patient demand is creating greater competition to fill physical therapist positions.
“It’s definitely not as easy as it used to be,” Griffiths said.
Griffiths said NovaCare can offer staff members opportunities for more education and certification in areas such as orthopedic, hand and vestibular therapy, and, through Select Medical, has connections to some of the best rehab hospitals in the country.