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Looking Back on the Year with Gratitude

November 24, 2021 • Advocacy • Heidi Jannenga

As we approach the holiday season, many of us may feel overwhelmed by packed schedules, family gatherings, and important work commitments. It can be easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle, but I feel it’s also important to set time aside to reflect. And as I do so, I can’t help but to feel an incredible amount of gratitude for what our industry has accomplished. A little over a year ago, I wrote a story about preparing for the potential next wave of COVID-19. In it, I said, “PTs have a huge opportunity in front of us—but we must persevere and own our role as healthcare leaders. If we take it one step at a time and focus on facts over rhetoric, I know we can—and will.” I can honestly say that we have not only persevered, but you—as champions and leaders in this industry—have helped us come out better, stronger, and more resilient as a profession, and, dare I say, as individuals.

Grit got us here—and will take us to where we’re going.

Throughout the ebbs and flows of COVID-19, the rehab therapy industry has remained steadfast in its adaptability, tenacity, and goals. And, while the pandemic certainly isn’t over, there is evidence of our accomplishments in many areas. We’ve seen this demonstrated through:

  • Advocacy wins this last year;
  • Stepping up as essential workers to deliver care to our patients, both in-person and virtually;
  • Prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion; and
  • The return of in-person events and conferences.

Despite ongoing adversity, you are meeting the needs of patients and your clinic teams; your true grit is helping to get the profession to where we need to go next. But, before we look forward, let’s take a moment to glance back with gratitude at what we have achieved together—and who’s helped us along the way.

Let’s celebrate advocacy victories.

Merriam-Webster describes advocacy as “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal: the act or process of advocating.” But really, it’s so much more than that. Advocacy in rehab therapy is time, energy, dedication, and yes, sometimes frustration. This is why when we get a win, it’s truly worth celebrating.

A Continued Push for Telehealth

One area of legislative victory for our industry has been in telehealth. On March 23, 2021, the Expanded Telehealth Access Act (H.R. 2168) expanded the list of providers eligible to deliver telehealth services beyond the public health emergency. It would also grant the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to add more healthcare providers to the list in the future. If passed, PTs, PTAs, OTs, OTAs, SLPs, and audiologists can permanently provide and receive payment for Medicare-covered services. We have not crossed the finish line yet, so please don’t let up on telehealth. Although it hasn’t caught fire yet in our ability to use it at its full capacity, it will be an important part of how PT is delivered in the future.

Additional advocacy efforts produced a win with five new states joining the Physical Therapy Compact Commission—Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Montana, and Ohio. The addition of these states encourages further collaboration to mitigate rehab therapy state-issued licensing telehealth restrictions.

A Few Final Rule Upticks

While perhaps not gaining any colossal victories in the 2022 Final Rule, some progress was made. For example, OTs will now be paid fairly for evaluation services resulting from the decision that all claims data associated with CPT codes 97165-97167 will go to “occupation therapy specialty.” Additional small—but worth mentioning—positive CMS changes include:

  • A slight increase in the physical therapy threshold (a combined $2,150 for physical therapy and speech therapy and $2,150 for occupational therapy);
  • Fewer payment reductions, although these weren’t as successful on the PTA/OTA differential front; and, for now,
  • The opportunity to make telehealth reimbursement permanent as we move beyond the public health crisis.

Similar to telehealth advocacy, we are not done fighting on the final rule details. Please continue to send letters to CMS to prevent these pay cuts before they’re implemented in 2022.

Let’s hear it for our heroic essential health workers.

The efforts of those in our industry who stepped up as essential workers during the pandemic are not only worthy of applause, they’re deserving of a standing ovation. To think of all you did—and so quickly—to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your coworkers and patients is remarkable. Our 2021 State of Rehab Therapy Report report reflects just how proactive and resilient you are:

  • You kicked safety into high gear, with an estimated nine in 10 therapy organizations implementing new sanitization requirements and requiring staff, patients, and visitors to wear masks.
  • You swiftly adapted telehealth as, making it the most-provided non-traditional therapy service across all practice sizes—with more than half of organizations offering remote visits last year. This helped sustain care and stabilize revenue amid government-enforced lockdowns. (And you did all this despite being short staffed.)
  • You’ve fought tirelessly to retain and regain your patients. In fact, as of January of 2021, our report showed that one in four rehab organizations had returned to—or were exceeding—pre-COVID patient volumes.
  • As patient visits have continued to ramp up over the past year, you’ve seen the return of staffing and salary levels in your clinics (more than half of rehab therapy organizations resumed pre-COVID percentages at the time of our industry survey). This has also helped restore many clinics’ revenue.

Thank you all for your heroism!

Let’s commend our work to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across the board.

We witnessed some valuable progression in our industry’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including the APTA’s:

  • Commitment to being an anti-racist organization, stating that the organization and its members “have an obligation to address policies and practices that perpetuate systemic racism and inequity in our association, the profession, and society.”;
  • Move to add “inclusion” to its list of core values;
  • Removal of event-attendance barriers (i.e., financial, location, and scheduling conflicts) to improve and expand access to its national conferences and events; and
  • Renewed focus on internal inclusion efforts with a particular emphasis on changing the bylaws to give “PTAs more rights in the House.”

Beyond the APTA, we’ve also seen many clinic leaders step up to embrace their roles as DEI changemakers by pushing for more diversity and inclusivity in their own practices. Of note, 15 CEOs from rehab therapy organizations have taken the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ pledge, which “aims to rally the business community to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace.” WebPT is proud to have taken this pledge—and we encourage all healthcare leaders to do the same as it’s a perfect framework to build, nurture, and grow a trusting ecosystem that empowers its employees and patients.

Let’s applaud the return of in-person events. 

In addition to the contributions made by our industry on the COVID-19 frontlines, we are seeing a shift in prioritizing the safe return of events and conferences—which are an essential part of career development and networking for rehab therapists. During the absence of live events, we can be proud of how we banded together to provide the information and resources our industry depends on through virtual caveats—like remote conferences and webinars. However, it didn’t quite fill the void that live events left.

Fortunately, private practice owners and therapists recently re-connected in Dallas for the PPS annual conference—and for many of us, it was our first in-person event in a very long time. While I was a bit nervous at first, those worries quickly lifted as I began to catch up with many of my colleagues and friends. It was such a gift to see them all face-to-face again! I am especially excited to attend more in-person gatherings, such as our very own Ascend Rehab Therapy Business Summit for 2022, as well as the Graham Sessions, and CSM—also slated for next year!

Let’s toast to one of WebPT’s greats!

And, speaking of changes, we had a bittersweet one here that hits close to home. There is no way I can speak about gratitude without saluting Nancy Ham’s personal contributions and accomplishments at WebPT over the last five years. In her time as CEO of WebPT, Nancy helped us achieve momentous growth and innovation as a company—and pushed us all as WebPTers to reach our full potential.

In addition to being named by HealthData Management as one of Health IT’s 25 Most Powerful Women Thought Leaders in 2016, Nancy helped expand our organization’s reach, introduced new product lines, and propelled WebPT to new levels of growth in pursuit of its overarching mission: to empower rehab therapists to achieve greatness in practice. Although Nancy has retired as CEO, she’ll remain Board Chair for WebPT’s board of directors and as APTQI’s Public Relations Committee Chair.

As we close out 2021, I am very grateful to have welcomed our new CEO Ashley Glover into the WebPT family. She has the right blend of operational experience and leadership to take our organization to new heights. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish!

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Looking at all the things I’m grateful for over the last year, it brings me hope for what’s to come. Yes, we still have a way to go—especially in regard to rehab therapy advocacy—but our accomplishments in 2021 should give us strength and courage to face whatever comes our way in 2022. I can’t thank you enough as my fellow colleagues, advocates, fighters, and friends.

Heidi Jannenga

Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi advises on WebPT’s product vision, company culture, branding efforts and internal operations, while advocating for the rehab therapy profession on a national and international scale. She’s an APTA member,...

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