As a high school student in 2010, Terran Gates embarked on an orthotics and prosthetics career (often called O&P) with a simple job shadowing experience at a local physical therapy clinic.
“I immediately fell in love with the idea that I could have a career that balanced working with my hands and working with people,” she said.
That began Gates’ lifelong pursuit to become a certified O&P professional, which she achieved in 2017. Earlier this year, Gates took the plunge and opened the business she’d been dreaming about, dedicated to making a meaningful and holistic impact on the lives of amputees and the disabled community.
Gates Prosthetics & Mobility Clinic opened in July at 1325 N. Main St. in Harrison and just recently at 706 S. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville.
Gates, 30, lives with her family in Bentonville. She worked with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center for three years to bring her dream to fruition.
She said her goal is to empower individuals by fitting them with cutting-edge O&P devices. She aims to purposefully build a culture focused on personalized patient experience and employee satisfaction.
The clinic has a staff of five, and Gates is the president and sole owner.
“When people are happy and rewarded for their work, they do better work, and patients feel that,” she said, “It’s gratifying and humbling to see the people that have come to work with me. They are the best in the area because they have the same mission. When they have a vision with a mission they want to work toward, they put their whole heart into it.”
The Bentonville office is in limited space while construction crews finish the interior buildout. In total, it’s about 2,500 square feet and should be completed by December.
“We have limited space, but we can still [operate at] full capacity,” Gates said. She’s building the O&P products at a fabrication facility at her home. That will relocate to the clinic when the Bentonville space is finished.
“We’re able to control the quality and speed of what we can make,” she explained. “I like that side of it, the craft side. And we’re a small, family-owned company. We can take care of people in a way we have more control over.”
Gates’ services include pediatric and adult upper and lower extremity prosthetics, custom orthotics, and sports bracing. That includes functional, cosmetic and activity-specific work.
“We don’t do eyes, ears or nose; that’s a different branch,” she said.
PUTTING PATIENTS FIRST
Gates is a Batesville native in northeast Arkansas. Her educational path led her through undergraduate studies in kinesiology and mathematics at the University of Arkansas, followed by a master’s degree in O&P at UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. She completed dual residencies and aced six board exams to become board-certified in O&P.
Beginning in January 2017, Gates spent six years working in Rogers for an Arkansas-based company with multiple locations throughout the state. Creating unique designs for patients with complex needs became her specialty.
“I felt like I had control over how I could treat my patients and the freedom to be creative and explore innovative designs,” she said.
About three years ago, however, a global corporation acquired the company, and Gates began seeing changes that didn’t match her vision of patient care.
“Like the rest of the world, when things go corporate, it turns to profit margins,” she explained. “It becomes less about the person and individual solutions.”
That scenario was the impetus for starting her own business. She believed patients deserved more than the “big box” experience that was popular among the large conglomerates dominating the O&P market.
In terms of insurance, she clarified that the clinic is not paid based on time but rather for what device is made and delivered — meaning insurance pays the same regardless of the fabrication method, quality of materials or skill level of the person who made it.
“Some companies see this as a means to make more revenue by pumping out quantity at the sacrifice of quality,” Gates said. She added that each prosthetic and orthotic her clinic creates is tailored to the unique individual and their specific needs.
“I want to prove that doing business this way is the better way and focusing on quality works,” she said. “When people understand the difference between custom, handcrafted devices and mass-produced made-to-measurement devices, they want to spend their insurance dollars where it makes the biggest difference in getting back to farming, playing with the grandkids, biking, working and living. That’s why I do things the way I do.”
But why Harrison? Gates said patients needed an alternative with consistent coverage since the clinicians covering the area were only there intermittently.
“Patients can’t wait two weeks for adjustments and nine months for a leg,” she said. “I have a patient who’s been walking with a prosthesis for 20 years that’s been using crutches for the past two. There is some urgency in what we do. Also, I like the people. They are active people. Salt of the earth people with work to do — farmers [and] people living off the land. They need something that works because they have life to keep up with.”
Gates is certified in exercise physiology with a specialization in inclusive fitness. The Bentonville clinic specializes in sports- and activity-specific prosthetics — think running and cycling — and keeping patients active.
“We’re trying to promote activity and overcoming physical limitations, which is a huge void in this field,” she said. “People often get a prosthesis and go to physical therapy until they use all the visits covered by their insurance. Then, they go home and have to figure it out from there on their own. Being a bridge from that to their goals is what I want to provide.”
Gates said her holistic approach includes:
- Coordinating the healthcare team.
- Doing pre-amputation consultations.
- Connecting people to community resources.
- Building a support group.
“Research shows, and what I have seen personally, is that people want to talk to somebody about what the process looks like,” she said. “For many people, amputation is not planned. They may see it coming, but it’s pretty abrupt when the decision is made. They don’t feel like they have much time to prepare.”
Gates and Andrew Roberge, a lower-limb amputee, facilitate the RISE Amputee Community Group. It meets once a month. Information for the meetings is posted on the Facebook page found at RISE Amputee Support Group.
“My family is laying roots here, and we want to put back into the community,” Gates said. “We want to make it more accessible and inclusive. Andrew and I spend a lot of time educating other healthcare professionals about needs for individuals with amputations and mobility impairments.”