Find out How PTS Helps More Students with Special Needs in Innovative Ways
More than 20 years ago, Pam Hackett was a contract therapist providing pediatric physical therapy services in public schools. And she saw a problem: “Teachers had no idea what therapists were doing or why they were doing it,” she observed.
She remembers students with cerebral palsy getting only a half-hour of therapy a week, while others who’d been referred to PT didn’t need it at all—“they needed a personal trainer,” she said, “and to work out!” Pam realized the badly fragmented school-based therapy system simply wasn’t meeting children’s needs.
Meanwhile, Diana Fongheiser, who was managing a pediatric therapy staffing company, was seeing how the system failed therapists, too.
Most hadn’t come from school-based practice. They were recent graduates, struggling to overcome a steep learning curve. Working in isolation from each other, without mentorship or supervision, they were “recreating the wheel all over the place,” Diana said.
By 1998, Diana and Pam were working at the same company. They shared a vision for delivering related services more efficiently and effectively and knew their combined clinical and administrative experience meant they could do it. So they left that company and started their own.
Today, school districts across southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware trust Diana and Pam’s company, Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), as a premier special education related services provider.
Pam, Diana, and their network of nearly 300 therapists bring streamlined, sustainable, successful pediatric therapy solutions to clinicians, administrators, and students.
Creative Collaborations to Meet Children’s Special Needs
As PTS’ co-founders and managing partners, Diana and Pam have always prioritized what’s best for children with special needs. And that focus means they’ve always made sure PTS invests in the best therapists possible.
PTS hires therapists as independent contractors but retains them because it treats them as valuable partners. “Therapists like working with us because they get to be more innovative,” Pam explained, “we charge them with meeting kids’ needs in creative and collaborative ways.”
One therapist, for instance, created a fun game called “Rude Dude” to teach students with Asperger syndrome how to self-monitor and self-correct problematic social behavior. PTS therapists who create fresh and viable approaches to serving children with special needs find they have a supportive platform for spreading their ideas throughout the therapeutic community.
The company helps therapists who are new to educational settings cut out that troublesome learning curve Diana noticed 20 years ago through its School-Based Academy. And its therapists “enjoy zero percent unemployment,” added Diana. In economic peaks and valleys alike, there’s always plenty of work; clinicians can “shuffle” between PTS’ clients. At PTS, “there’s no such thing as a lay-off.”
Pioneering Data-Driven Pediatric Therapy Solutions
One of PTS’ hallmarks is its emphasis on using objective data to plan treatments and programming.
Pam and Diana remember sifting through paper questionnaires in the company’s early days, preparing reports to help special education administrators run fiscally responsible programs. “Back then,” said Diana, “money was pretty easy to come by. We’d give these documents to administrators, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting’—and toss them into the circular filing cabinet! But we stuck with it, because we knew, sooner or later, people were going to come looking for data.”
Sure enough, after the 2008 financial crash, they did. “All of the sudden.” said Pam, “our cost-control capabilities were viewed by the school districts as very valuable.”
PTS had already trained its therapists to think about data, impact, and accountability. And it had digitized and automated its data collection and analysis in what is today its proprietary, award-winning BudgetWatchTM software.
As a result, the company experienced rapid growth. It even made several consecutive appearances on Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 5000 List of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies.
“Now administrators were forced to vigorously defend the decisions they had made or were proposing in terms of forecasting, impact, and return on investment,” said Diana. “None of the other competitors in our industry ever thought that way.”
But even as districts tightened special education purse strings, more students needed pediatric therapy services. To meet this additional need without adding billable hours, PTS developed many tools still used in its Therapeutic Ecosystem model. “All kinds of games, toys, teacher handouts, in-services—anything we could do to deliver therapy without the therapist,” explained Pam, “and make sure kids didn’t fall through the cracks.”
Diana remembers a conversation with one administrator who told her, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is, we’re going to have a lot more kids for you to serve next year. The bad news is, the superintendent has charged me with having you reduce your costs by $100,000.”
“And we did it,” Diana added, through close collaboration with the administrator, the right therapy team, financial monitoring, and resources designed to have a multiplier effect. Fifteen years later, PTS still works with that school district. Its costs there now are lower than they were five years ago.
Working to “Do More Good” At Home and Overseas
When Pam and Diana wrote their book, Take a Bite Out of School-Based Therapy Costs—a practical guide showing school administrators how to control expenses while improving quality—they didn’t hold any of their expertise back.
“A lot of people cautioned us, ‘If you show everybody your secret sauce, that diminishes your value in the market,’” Diana recalled. “But the truth is, they’re things everybody could be doing anyway. We want people to manage these programs responsibly so they can help more students.”
That drive to “help more students” has made PTS a leader in the charge to “do more good,” as the company’s slogan puts it, both at home and around the world. Currently, PTS funds and provides pediatric speech therapists for the first autism school in Mysore, India. IHI International, a nonprofit devoted to empowering vulnerable people worldwide, has taken PTS training and resources to young refugees in Iraq.
Most recently, Pam has been working with a network of 3,000 schools in 13 countries—“mostly in very poor areas in Africa, India, and all over Latin America,” she says—to develop trainings for teachers in schools where pediatric therapy services aren’t provided.
“It’s been a great testing ground for our concept of therapy without the therapist,” said Pam. “I know it works because I travel to India for two weeks, set up programs for kids, teach the teachers, teach the parents—and when I come back a year later, the teachers are fantastic. If you think creatively and you empower people, you can make a huge difference.”
See Possibilities, Not Problems, with Pediatric Therapeutic Services
Speaking more about her international work, Pam said, “Changing the whole mindset of what’s possible for these kids is a huge part of my passion. It’s not just about one little school. It’s about changing the way people view students with special needs—seeing the possibility instead of the problem.”
She could as easily say the same about all the work she, Diana, and the company they founded have done, abroad or at home. In response to those discouraging realizations two decades ago, they’ve worked to see possibilities, not problems, for students with special needs—and to turn those possibilities into actual effective and cost-efficient pediatric therapy solutions.
If you’re a therapist seeking a collaborative and creative challenge, contact PTS to find out how you can join its mission to help students receiving therapy achieve their full potential,
If you’re a school administrator, contact PTS today to discover how to make each of your district’s therapy dollars work as hard for your students as possible.