Photo by Jim Baron
Q: This issue of CBC is dedicated to female entrepreneurs. What’s it like to be a fledgling female entrepreneur?
A: It’s an ever-changing combination of excitement, terror, empowerment, and fatigue. It honestly depends on the day. Overall, I have really enjoyed the process of building my own business, but it has been incredibly helpful to have the support of a great business partner, David Skrajner, and the guidance of other local female entrepreneurs. Cleveland is such a supportive environment for small businesses, and downtown is ripe for service-based industries to serve the many new residents and commuters. So the buzz and excitement about Relevation has been great.
Q: What has been your biggest obstacle been thus far?
A: Space! We wanted Relevation to be downtown in order to be easily accessible and/or walkable to the commuters and residents. It’s an area not currently serviced by the hospital systems. Additionally, we had a desire to stay close to Playhouse in order to maximize access to the performing arts community, a group of patients that we have an expertise in treating. Lastly, we needed a landlord that was willing to take on a unique space that included locker rooms, showers, sprung-floors, etc. Not every building owner jumped at this chance, especially with the high demand for general retail and restaurant space downtown, so it took us some time (and a great broker) to find what we were looking for. Our space, 1213 Prospect Ave. East, is a perfect fit. It is just around the corner from the theaters; it’s a quick walk from the financial buildings and many of the high-rise residences; there is ample parking; and our building owner has been fantastic and generous with the buildout of our clinic.
Q: What type of business experience do you have?
A: Prior to moving to Cleveland, I managed a practice in Chicago for five years. It was part of a large, regional physical therapy company that has since been sold to a private equity firm. It started as a solo private practice, and I was able to watch and learn as it grew into a healthcare giant. Their management training program was fantastic and, in my opinion, one of the main reasons their expansion was so successful. I was able to build a comprehensive skill set regarding marketing, business metric collection and analysis, budgeting, and personnel management – something I think many healthcare professionals never get the chance to do. Simply being a good clinician does not make a good manager, as the skill set is completely different. I think this is why many healthcare institutions struggle. In addition, prior to becoming a PT, I worked in Washington as a health policy analyst. I am sort of a political junkie, so I think with all of the changes in healthcare, insurance reimbursement, and clinic administration, it is helpful that I have a good grasp on some of the macro-level issues that affect my field.
Q: Have any specific individuals been guiding you along the way?
A: I have some great mentors and bosses from my previous position to help me with the PT/fitness-related issues, but as far as navigating Cleveland and getting some entrepreneurial love and support, I have been fortunate to meet several other local female business owners to guide me through the process. I was a finalist for the fall 2014 class of Bad Girl Ventures, a start-up incubator, which allowed me to bond with nine other women going through the process, as well as network with area business owners to get their insight and suggestions. Many of us were at different points in the process, so it was great to hear their stories and avoid any pitfalls they had already experienced. In addition, BGV and the other participants had already vetted many potential service providers, so it was a great way to help us find our team (attorney, accountant, real estate broker, etc.) without scouring the internet and crossing our fingers. BGV helped increase the pace of our progress by at least a year. Going through their program was an invaluable resource.
Q: What do you find fulfilling about physical therapy?
A: PT is a great way to not only have a huge impact on people’s health and well-being, but it may be one of the most intimate forms of healthcare. There are not many other medical professionals that get to see their patients two to three times per week and build such strong bonds. Generally my patients see me from somewhere between one and three hours per week, which is a lot of time to really figure out how I can create a plan of care that gets them back to doing what they love to do. It can be as simple as a parent that wants to be able to pick up their child without pain to as complicated as a dancer with an ankle sprain who needs to perform that night. Getting to know my patients and helping them reach their goals is the best part of my job. There is great satisfaction in being able to use your hands to give someone immediate pain relief or improve function. Opposite of that macro-level health policy I spoke of earlier, direct patient care is the definition of micro-level healthcare. There is no significant lag time or red tape to see improvement. It’s the opposite of my previous job in health policy.
Q: What made you decide to open your own business?
A: When I moved to Cleveland about two years ago, I was astounded at how few private practices existed here. Coming from Chicago, where there are plenty of large hospital systems, outpatient orthopedic therapy is still dominated by private practice. Here, possibly due to the size of the market versus the magnitude of the medical institutions, the hospital systems dominate. I took a job with one of the hospitals, but I pretty quickly realized that I needed more opportunity for growth. The hospitals, while excellent at many different medical specialties, are quite cumbersome and incredibly expensive for something like PT, which requires such a high frequency of visits in a short amount of time. While I don’t discount any of our hospitals’ expertise and world-class care for many areas of medicine, I know that PT can be done better at less cost, as I have seen it and experienced it elsewhere, so I wanted to bring that same model to Cleveland.
Q: What type of clients are you aiming to attract?
A: In general, we want to be the primary providers of orthopedic PT for the residents and commuters to downtown Cleveland. Our market is primarily geographical — as with any healthcare or fitness service, if it isn’t convenient, people don’t use it. Many people don’t realize that in Ohio, direct access laws mean you do NOT need a physician’s prescription for PT services. We are doctors of physical therapy, and we want to be someone’s initial point of entry into the healthcare system for orthopedic care. Head to toe, we can treat any orthopedic condition and are trained in differential diagnosis so that if we do not feel a person’s injury is within our scope of practice, we can refer them to the correct provider. Patients can name their primary care physician, their dentist, their gynecologist, their chiropractor, etc. While we don’t want our patients to have repeated injuries or recurrent aches and pains, we do want to add our names to that list of practitioners they can rattle off so that they know there is someone for them to go to should they need our services again in the future. Also, one of the reasons for choosing to be downtown was to be able to provide our specialty services to the performing arts community. We wanted to be near the theater district, close to CSU, and a quick Health Line bus ride away from the Circle to be able to provide therapy and Pilates to our dancers, musicians, and actors who have a specific set of therapeutic needs, as, despite pain or injury, the show must go on.
Q: What is unique about your practice?
A: There are several things that are unique to Relevation, but the primary differentiating factor is our focus on wellness services. All of our PTs are also certified Pilates instructors and we will have a full Pilates studio in house to offer both private and group classes. It is a good adjunct to our treatment for patients as well as allowing us to serve the general population with some much needed fitness services downtown. There will also be some barre classes, strength classes, personal training and massage services offered as well to round out our wellness options. From a patient and client perspective, it allows people to seamlessly transition between rehab for injury to fitness for wellness – all with the same highly trained professionals. Patients become very attached to their PTs and hate when we have to “break up,” so this allows them to stay with us should they want to keep the relationship going. I always joke with my friends that I have become very proficient at letting people down easy. But rather than the “It’s not you, it’s me” speech, I have to give them the “It’s not you, it’s your insurance” speech. For the patient, this helps them transition into independent management of their injury or diagnosis, and from a business perspective this allows us to have cash-based services to help bridge the insurance reimbursement lag time. The other unique aspects to our practice are its accessibility and affordability. Most people need to come to PT before or after work, so we will have extended hours (6 a.m. to 8 p.m.) to make sure we can easily accommodate patients’ schedules.
Q: Any short- or long-term plans for the practice?
A: In the short term, from a wellness perspective we would like to develop a loyal following of fitness clients who spend a few moments of their week with us — getting physically and mentally stronger, connecting with themselves and other Relevation enthusiasts, and allowing us to bring some joy (and sore abs) to their regular fitness routine. From the therapy perspective the first goal is always to provide quality care and exceed our patients’ expectations. The second is to build a practice that can sustain three to five full-time PTs by continuing to forge relationships with area physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists, and other health and fitness colleagues for patient referrals as well as continue to cultivate our relationships with area theaters, dance companies, and universities for performing arts patients. We also want to educate the population on direct access and develop a more streamlined approach for acquiring patients through community interaction and outreach, saving them time and money through avoiding unnecessary medical visits, testing, and delays in care. Long-term plans involve expanding this model into multiple (ideally four to five) greater Cleveland markets – holding true to the accessibility concept, including making it close to home/work, extended hours, easy online scheduling, and offering a holistic approach through a more wellness/fitness-based practice.
Q: You have a master’s degree in public health and spent five years in Washington working in that field. What’s your personal long-term goal?
A: Long term, I would like to run for office. While I really love hands-on patient care and being able to see and feel the direct influence I can quickly have on each person individually, I do miss some of bigger, broad-stroke improvements that can be made at the policy level. My focus in D.C. was on adolescent health issues and being able to take part in federal, state, and local level policy changes or best-practice efforts is an incredible way to make big changes for an entire generation. Working on teen pregnancy prevention, physical activity and nutrition guidelines for schools, bullying, or other macro-level health issues, while often slow to see change and mired in red tape, can be very rewarding when the numbers start to change for the better. Not to mention, I simply love a good debate and nothing can cause a more heated discussion than politics. The current primary campaigns have been strangely delightful and simultaneously infuriating. It’s great! I am excited that Cleveland will be such an integral part of the 2016 election.
Q: You also spent quite a bit of time in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Chicago. Are you a big Cleveland/Ohio State fan, and how did that go over in those two stops?
A: At the risk of alienating potential clients, I am most definitely NOT a Buckeye fan. Being a Michigan alumna who grew up in a house full of Buckeyes (I am the youngest of eight kids), I have to stay steadfast to my alma mater. The past few years living here have been especially rough being a Wolverine. Thankfully, when I was in Ann Arbor the tides were turned and the Cooper years were upon OSU, so I had bragging rights. I am cautiously optimistic about the Harbaugh era. I also did my Doctorate at Northwestern, so there are at least two Big Ten schools that I cheer for to beat Ohio State. I did keep my Ohio allegiance for professional sports while in DC and Chicago, remaining a Browns, Indians, and Cavs fan. However, it’s impossible to live in Chicago and not root for the Blackhawks, so I brought a bit of Chi-town love back with me!
For more information: Relevationwellness.com