The allure of outpatient aquatics

David Panteleakos, Westview Health Care Center
David Panteleakos, Westview Health Care Center

Across the country, many senior facility leaders are trying to pragmatically expand their outpatient offerings.  By reaching out to new clientele, they are able to make incredible inroads within their communities and uncover new sources of referrals for their core senior services and, ultimately, revenue streams. However, the road is anything but clear-cut. Creativity is often required, as well as a willingness to learn from the successes of others.

I am a third generation healthcare administrator and I have grown up in the business. When returned 15 years ago to the family business, I knew we had to invest in what was not offered in the area as part of our strategic plan to maintain stability by growing our revenue steams. When our senior-driven center decided we wanted to break through the barriers that were keeping us from achieving our ultimate goals, we took a step back and carefully explored our primary service area. What we realized is that there was a huge demand for certain resources, including aquatic outpatient programs among those of the Boomer generation. We seized upon the opportunity to reach this underserved, age 50-plus population and steadily built our reputation as a top-notch provider of aquatic therapy services for those actively aging in our area.

Some of the lessons we discovered along the way have been helpful to other executives who are in the same position as we were; that is, just embarking on aquatics for outpatient purposes:

  • We made sure to spend time on aquatic intervention research, as well as to ensure we had staff that understood it and were certified for aquatic therapy. We also ran the numbers and made sure we could justify the costs associated with investing in state-of-the-art technology, such as purchasing a pool and maintaining it. When considering operating costs, we also projected the new business it would bring in, not simply the straight therapy time associated per patient. 
  • We talk to anyone who will listen about our senior outpatient aquatics, because we believe it really sets us apart as a provider. It's a part of our tool box that excites people. They want to see the warm water therapy pool and be in the pool, using its underwater treadmill and massage jets. From a marketing perspective, it's phenomenal.
  • We stay current on the realities of the ACA and its effect on healthcare, especially for those near or at retirement. From where we sit, we feel that the coming reimbursement system and new mechanisms used for paying providers like nursing homes and senior living communities necessitates vertical integration of services.  Aquatics can be a way to vertically integrate; we've gone from an inpatient skilled facility that specializes in inpatient rehab and taken it further to expand with an outpatient program.

Will we consider to move our services beyond and within the realm of outpatient aquatic therapy? We already have. The changing climate of healthcare is going to require creativity.

I believe that one of the most important tools any administrator, CEO or owner of an organization is going to need is creativity. With that, we've developed a sports medicine program as well. It's a sub-product of our outpatient aquatics intervention offerings, and it helps to keep us competitive. It also helps us reach the next generation of individuals who may one day decide to reside with us.

There's only so much business to go around, and we all have to become innovative in the way we expand so that we run a senior community that is efficient, cost-effective and high quality.  Certainly, all of those characteristics don't always work together, but in some cases, they do. The future of healthcare clearly is a revision of expectations and access to care; it's happening before our very eyes. It's creating compression, but that doesn't mean organizations can't stay afloat. We found our aging community's deficits, and we plugged those holes.  Your team can do that, too.

David Panteleakos is the administrator of Westview Health Care Center in Dayville, CT.

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