Jerry Fenter’s high school football team was rolling, and he was enjoying his time playing middle linebacker. In pregame warmups before one game he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. Fenter had to begin the slow and arduous process of rehabilitating his body, and physical therapy started to intrigue him.
Fenter first attended Arkansas State University to study education, but physical therapy (PT) continued to dominate his thoughts. In 2007, he, his wife Sara, and Melissa Crymes started Fenter Physical Therapy (FPT) in Marion. A decade later the company has more than 65 full- and part-time employees and operates in 11 counties in the Arkansas Delta, Fenter told Talk Business & Politics. It has a footprint that stretches from the Missouri border to south Arkansas and all along the Mississippi River.
One of the unique challenges in growing this business has been finding enough qualified therapists to fill the company’s expanding employee roster. College students in the field do rotations in Fenter’s outpatient clinics. Networking with staff members and the students with whom they were acquainted and who were still in college was one step in the process, Fenter said. Some of the relationships are developed years before the therapist can be employed full time, he said.
“Finding the right people has always been a challenge. We’ve grown so much,” he said. “Our number one problem … it’s always been staffing.”
PT is a rapidly expanding economic sector, according to IBISWorld, a global business research firm. During the last five years, the sector has grown 3.6% annually. There are 405,000 workers employed in the PT field, and there are about 60,000 businesses in the industry, according to the IBISWorld report. The sector generates about $35 billion in revenue.
The number of people 50 years and older is growing, and the need for PT services will trend upward because older people require more of that type of service, the report noted. About 26% of PT clinics or centers are located in the southeast United States, and tend to be in more urban areas, the report states.
After its startup, FPT expanded into West Memphis with the addition of Delta Orthopaedics Sports Medicine Rehab Institute in conjunction with orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Michael Hood. Delta Orthopaedics is one of the few facilities in eastern Arkansas that has an orthopedic surgeon and PT services at one location, the company said. Those facilities include one of the few pools for aquatic therapy in the Arkansas Delta, said Reagan Davis, FPT director of marketing and referral development.
Aquatic therapy offers an alternative form of rehabilitation and can also be used in conjunction with traditional outpatient therapies, he said. The pool is especially useful for patients who are unable to perform land therapy or exercise. The pool provides patients with a quicker and less painful rehabilitation, he added.
“It [the pool] allows us to return patients to a normal lifestyle faster and more efficiently,” Fenter said.
FPT expanded its outpatient coverage when it opened a clinic in Forrest City, followed by the opening of a clinic in Brinkley. Shortly after establishing its Forrest City outpatient services, FPT bought and merged its existing clinic with East Arkansas Physical Therapy, according to the company.
FPT opened its West Helena location in June 2017. The company has more than just its clinics to offer, Fenter said. It has become a primary in-home physical therapy provider in the Arkansas Delta, he said. Through its contracted home health agencies, FPT provides physical, occupational and speech therapies to patients unable to attend therapy in a traditional outpatient clinic, Davis said.
Fenter said his company offers industrial ergonomic pre-employment screenings for several area trucking companies. It has a presence in Jonesboro and Memphis. FPT plans to expand its home health offerings into Pine Bluff, Stuttgart and DeWitt areas, he added.
The expansive growth has been phenomenal, and Fenter thinks the growth will continue. Developing relationships with potential physical therapists through word of mouth and networking will be key to the company’s ability to expand at a healthy rate, he added.
“It’s been a wild ride. … We’ve had employee growth of 1,700%,” he said.