|Q&A with Sue Sulley, PT and Founding President of Rascal Creek Physical Therapy in Merced, California|
|Sue Sulley, PT, is the founding president of Rascal Creek Physical Therapy in Merced, California. Sue founded the facility in 1987. She earned a BA in Biology from the University of Colorado and a BS in Physical Therapy from the University of New Mexico. At Rascal Creek, she focuses mainly on orthopedic and sports rehabilitation. Sue is also a member of PTPN, the nation’s first and largest network of outpatient rehabilitation therapists in private practice.
Q: What motivated you to become a physical therapist?
A: In 7th grade, I did research for a required paper about my career selection. I wanted to be a flight attendant, but at that time, flight attendants couldn’t wear glasses so I had to make another choice. I can’t say why, but I chose physical therapy and it became my ‘have to have it’ career goal.
I applied as an undergrad to the CU PT program but didn’t make the cut. After graduation, I applied to most of the programs in the US that accepted students from out-of-state, but competition was fierce and I had no luck there either. Eventually, after establishing residency and working as a PT aide in New Mexico, I was accepted to the UNM program.
Q: What is the main focus of your facility?
A: It’s a relatively small facility, with a focus on outpatient orthopedic rehab. There are five PTs on staff. Each of us is a generalist with a preference for diagnosis or age group. One of the staff is a specialist for issues of pelvic health, another specializes in golf enhancement, and another in geriatrics. We have a full-time occupational therapist, a speech therapist on contract, and a nutritionist who teaches classes here.
Q: When did you open Rascal Creek Physical Therapy? How did you get it started?
A: After a change in jobs, I was approached by an occupational therapist and a speech therapist, who were trying to start a rehab consulting business and needed a PT to fill the rehab bill. I started working in three local SNFs (skilled nursing facilities).
This gave me some income as well as time to supervise construction of the new office space, make financial plans and arrangements, and purchase equipment. In March of 1987, I saw my first patient—one of my SNF patients, who was ready for outpatient therapy.
By word of mouth alone, more patients found us, liked us, told their doctor and others about us, and the practice grew. We also offered services that were not available elsewhere in the area—isokinetics, manual therapy, and one-on-one hands-on care.
Q: What are your day-to-day responsibilities as a PT at your facility?
A: I carry a full patient load—which could be 10 to 18 patients a day and often a 12-hour day. I do the lion’s share of office administration on non-patient days and between patients.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Rascal Creek’s TLC?
A: We have a pelvis center called TLC, or Through the Life Cycle, dedicated to providing treatment for problems in the pelvis for patients of all ages, male or female. We are delighted to be the first in Merced to offer this care. Two of us went to weekend courses for over a year, so we even have vacation coverage and options if the TLC gets busier. With our new TLC Center for treatment of problems in the pelvis, Rascal Creek provides a much-needed service to patients of all ages in Merced.
Q: How does this center benefit the female population? What about the male and pediatric population?
A: For women, we address issues related to pre- or post-partum complications, incontinence, and acute or chronic pain in the pelvic area related to many different diagnoses and causes.
For the male population, we can treat problems with incontinence, pain from bowel or retention issues, and pre- or post-prostate surgery, or any other chronic pain in the pelvis.
For the pediatric population, we can address issues related to bedwetting, urine or bowel retention, or pain in the pelvis from any number of causes. As with all our patients, we look at the whole patient and treat, educate, and help with strategies for healthy, pain-free living.
Q: In your opinion, has the role of the physical therapist changed over recent years?
A: In our office, the role of the PT hasn’t changed. We are educators and musculoskeletal specialists. Rascal Creek paid for three of our PTs to get their DPT, but their role remains the same.
Q: How has your facility survived through this time of economic hardship?
A: I directly fought off being purchased by local doctors. I educate doctors on why they shouldn’t buy or own PT practices. We participate in provider groups that give us more clout in the bigger arena of third party payers and reimbursement. We donate and participate in the CAL-PAC. We meet with legislators in Sacramento and when they return to their local offices. We are on the PTeam and stay abreast of the political issues pertinent to PTIPs. We negotiated a decrease in rent.
The current economy and shrinking reimbursement (e.g., the proposal to cut reimbursement by 21%) should be a great concern to PTs. One of the reasons we do well is that Merced has always been economically depressed so this is not a new game for us. We have always had double-digit unemployment, but other financial issues outside Merced are starting to have an effect here.
Companies have closed entirely here and those people don’t have lots of other options for employment. They also don’t have insurance so physical therapy might not appear to be an option. Negotiated or mandated changes in reimbursement have also impacted our bottom line. We are leaner, more cost-conscious, and more economical. We have also looked outside the usual PT office model and started cash-paying options for wellness and therapy.
Q: What is rewarding about your job?
A: I love the fact that I inspire the love of movement. I know I can get them better but I’m thrilled when the patient tells me that they changed their life to include exercises routinely. The other rewarding part of my job is that I prefer to hire employees that are PT “wannabees.” I have seen eight members of my staff succeed in their journey to PT school and professional practice.
Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned over the course of your career?
A: I’ve learned that it takes all kinds—in staff, in patients—and that I have something to offer. Just when I think I’ve seen everything, there’s something new. There’s always something new and challenging.
Q: What advice do you usually have for your PT “wannabees?”
A: If you are passionate about physical therapy and if you know it’s right for you, make it your life’s goal to succeed. You need to try everything physical therapy has to offer before you specialize. Make it your brand of PT. You can make it special—for you and for your patients.