National Rehabilitation: Getting Injured Workers Back On The Job Fast

To William F. Youree, chief executive of National Rehabilitation Centers Inc., injured workers are a lot like injured athletes: The quicker you get them back in the game, the happier they are. Combining exercise and work-simulation drills, National Rehab's physical therapists help workers recover quickly from back strain, repetitive-motion disorders, and other muscular and bone injuries. "After all, our patients depend on their bodies to make a living," says Youree, 44.

Fast turnarounds are a winning strategy for National Rehab, a chain of 33 clinics in 10 states. Last year, net income at the Brentwood (Tenn.) company jumped 63%, to $1.9 million, while revenues surged 88% from a year earlier, to $24 million.

FEW THERAPISTS. By far the most common workplace affliction, sprains and strains account for more than 50% of all on-the-job injuries, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). But only in the past five years have employers realized how helpful physical therapy can be in treating and preventing these ills, says Marilyn Moffat, president of the American Physical Therapy Assn. In fact, one obstacle facing Youree is a critical shortage of physical therapists.

Youree, a former hospital administrator, has capitalized on the explosion in physical therapy while offering rehabilitative treatment at rates lower than at traditional hospitals. The company holds down costs by monitoring diagnostic and treatment charges, much like a health maintenance organization or preferred-provider network. And because National Rehab stresses returning employees to work as quickly as possible, it helps save employers money on lost wage claims.

This is Youree's second tour of duty at National Rehab. He first joined the then-struggling company in 1987 as vice-president of operations. He quickly left to run another rehab outfit, but was lured back to turn National Rehab around seven months later by its venture-capital investors.

Now, he plans to buy 4 to 10 more centers over the next three years. All are bound to benefit as escalating health care costs push up workers' compensation claims. Youree figures the dollar value of claims will quadruple, to $88 billion a year, by decade's end--an estimate supported by the NCCI. Even if they're only half right, that's still more sore muscles than any one company could ever hope to soothe.

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