Q&A with Fredlyn Berger, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist at Every Child Achieves in North Hollywood, California
Fredlyn (Freddie) Berger is a pediatric OT with specialties in feeding, G-tube transitions, sensory integration and developmental evaluations. She received a BS in occupational therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1974, has advance practice certifications in feeding/swallowing and hand therapy, and certifications in Sensory Integration Praxis Test (SIPT) and as a lactation consultant. For more than 35 years, Freddie has worked with various populations in different settings as an OT. In 2003, she opened her first of four companies, Every Child Achieves, www.everychildachieves.com.
Q: What motivated you to enter occupational therapy?
A: My introduction to OT was traumatic, to say the least. When I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, my 20-year-old cousin fell off a high cliff and sustained a severe traumatic head injury. As a result, she reverted to functioning at about a 9-month-old level post-coma. During her six-month rehabilitation program, I assisted the therapy staff and witnessed my cousin's recovery to nearly 100% of her normal function. It was this phenomenal event that made me realize how amazing it is to be a facilitator in helping others recover after illness or injury. Occupational therapy became my obsession.
Q: How did you begin your career as an OT?
A: I began by moving from Wisconsin to California to do my internships at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehab Center. My move to California was one of the best professional choices I have made to date because of the amount of opportunities available for occupational therapists in California.
Q: You have an organization consisting of four companies. Can you explain each one?
A: Every Child Achieves (ECA) is a multi-disciplinary early intervention company providing quality infant developmental services to children and their families in their natural environment throughout Southern California. ECA's multi-disciplinary team includes occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, child development specialists, nutritionists and registered dietitians
ECA prides itself on creating a nurturing environment for therapists of all experience levels who value teamwork, extensive training and utilizing evidence-based practice to create the best outcomes. ECA offers a unique opportunity for therapists to work in a multitude of settings with diverse caseloads because of its affiliation with its sister companies:
• Wellness Works Home Health is a licensed home health agency. We are committed to providing the highest quality services in the home environment for all ages, pediatric, adult and geriatric populations, through private insurance within a 60-mile radius of North Hollywood, California.
• Wellness Works Therapy is a multi-disciplinary company committed to providing the highest quality services in an outpatient clinic environment for all ages through private insurance and private pay.
• Reach to Succeed is a school-based multi-disciplinary non-public agency (NPA) that is committed to providing the highest quality services in a school environment. Reach to Succeed contracts with charter schools and school districts throughout Southern California.
All four companies work together with the same vision of a community based, multi-disciplinary organization that services different publics through different reimbursements.
Q: When and why did you start your own companies?
A: After thirty years of being a treating occupational therapist in all settings including the NICU of Northridge Hospital, I had a vision to create a multi-disciplinary pediatric therapy company to service the community and truly make an impact. One of the keys to my vision was to have a company that offered a loving and family-oriented environment that, at the same time, nurtured the growth and further training of all of its therapists in order to provide the very best service.
Every Child Achieves was launched in 2003 with the vision of making a difference by focusing on early intervention (children ages 0-3). Then, launched in 2006, Wellness Works Inc. (also known as Wellness Works Therapy), would provide a diverse offering of services for all ages by being affiliated with approximately 300 leading licensed occupational, physical and speech therapists, registered dieticians, exercise physiologists, massage therapists and parenting educators throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties. This multi-disciplinary approach ensured that each patient's needs was thoroughly identified and fully addressed by our team of dedicated professionals.
Wellness Works Therapy hit a major milestone when the company became an in-network preferred provider to over 80 insurance companies including Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Medicare, and several HMO IPAs including Lakeside Medical Group, Regal Medical Group, Facey Medical Group and Health Care Partners. In addition, Wellness Works Inc. was contracted with PTPN, America's first and largest network of independent rehabilitation providers. I served as a board member for them for several years.
In 2009, Wellness Works Therapy launched a school-based company called Reach to Succeed. Reach to Succeed is a certified Non Public Agency (NPA), which allows us to deliver OT, PT, and speech in the North Hollywood Clinic and in schools throughout all of Southern California.
As Wellness Works Therapy continued to connect with the local community, we realized the growing need for therapy services in-home. In 2010, Wellness Works Therapy was able to create partnerships and relationships with additional organizations and insurance companies, which enabled us to deliver in-home services via insurance, private pay, and home health throughout Southern California.
In 2011, Wellness Works Home Health, Inc. became officially licensed as a Home Health Agency and is able to accommodate any home health needs for all ages within a 60-mile radius of North Hollywood.
Through the growth of all four companies, we have had the ability to offer flexible schedules with a multitude of services through private insurance, private pay, regional centers and school districts, along with private contracts and assisting other home health agencies.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
A: I am the CEO for our organization and also a practicing occupational therapist. Between running an organization, training over 200 therapists and seeing patients, I pride myself on loving what I do and creating a culture within my organization to work hard and make a difference.
Q: What diagnoses do you encounter most frequently?
A: Regarding our pediatric patients, we see a multitude of diagnoses that include:
• developmental delay;
• severe feeding disorder including preterm infants who can't suck or swallow;
• G-tube transitions;
• sensory and motor delay;
• cerebral palsy;
• Sensory Integration Disorder;
• Down syndrome;
• Di-George syndrome;
• motor dysfunction; and much more.
We also see adults who suffer from:
• orthopedic injuries;
• developmental delays;
• neurological impairments;
• multiple sclerosis;
• Parkinson's disease;
• cancer; and much more.
Q: Are there other areas of interest for you as an OT, either clinically or educationally, that you plan to pursue?
A: I am always looking to grow, so I am extremely active in taking classes, teaching courses and participating with our state and national associations, OTAC and AOTA. In addition, I am in the process of growing a home health agency with specialties in pediatrics, so I look forward to collaborating with nurses and continuing to learn from other disciplines.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face in your job?
A: The greatest challenge I face in my job is the continual reimbursement cuts from insurance companies and the state, which results in our patients not being able to get the care they deserve and need. Our state has severely cut services for children who suffer from developmental delays; therefore, there are a ton of children not getting the services they need. I wish our country understood the epidemic of autism and developmental delays, and could advocate for a higher standard of care for these children and additional resources for their families.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike most?
A: I love working with the patients and families. I love making a difference in their lives and knowing that I am leaving a mark in my community.
I dislike the amount of under-served families that go without services every day. I hate the fact that my company struggles to stay in business because we choose to service patients even when we are losing money on their care.
Q: Do you feel that the role of an OT has changed over recent years?
A: I feel that the profession is growing, which is very exciting, but I also know that recent graduates require such high compensation that, in many cases, reimbursement from insurances and the state makes it hard as a business owner to support job growth. I also notice that our profession is expanding and embracing evidence-based practice.
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to occupational therapy today?
A: I believe the greatest concern is the uncertainty and impact that the changes in healthcare reform will have on our profession. We are in an election year, and there are still no facts tied to how healthcare reform will impact our country and our profession.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: I have learned to be open to new knowledge and seek it out! No one has all the answers, so the more open I am the more I can be a resource to families.
Q: What advice do you have for new OT grads?
A: Find a program that will mentor you and not just throw you to the wolves. I recommend new graduates pick a company that will mentor them for a minimum of one year.
Q: How have you been able to grow professionally?
A: As you can see from my background, I am an extremely eclectic therapist and have had the privilege to understand and learn the full spectrum of the human experience from early birth NICU to the geriatric population. I have grown throughout my 30+ years of experience as a person and therapist in ways that I relate with others. Now, I also have the ability to add to the quality of anyone's life with my OT skills and mindset. It is a very empowering ability.
Q: How has being an OT affected you personally?
A: I am blessed to have two children who have been motivated by my career and chose to follow in my footsteps in the field of occupational therapy. My daughter, Tamara, became a licensed OT over three years ago, and works in both pediatrics and adults for our organization. My son, Ben, is currently applying to graduate school for occupational therapy and is excited to become an OT. In addition, my husband and son-in-law both help me by running the business side of our organization. There is something incredibly rare and special about my whole family sharing my vision for making a difference in our community, and we love working together.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The most rewarding part of my job is my team! I have the most amazing group, and together we have the opportunity to help hundreds of patients every day. I am so blessed because I could not do this without an amazing team of therapists, managers and support staff.
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