Will We Meet Rehab Demands?

February 15

Between 2010 and 2020, 70 million Americans will retire and as this group continues to age, they will be in need of more rehabilitation services. Looking at the forecasted numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all of the caregivers in this arena will be lacking in numbers.

Physical therapists represent one of the fastest growing healthcare occupations experiencing a 30.3% increase from 2008-2018. This equates to an increase of about 56,200 PTs. Physical therapists are professionals that assess and provide patients various modalities of treatment. The end result is developing, maintaining or restoring the maximum movement and function throughout a person's life.

About 60% of PTs work in hospitals or in offices of other health practitioners. At the present time, we are already seeing an increase of PTs in home health, nursing care facilities and outpatient treatment centers. PTs can also be self-employed in private practice and can then contract to provide services to hospitals, rehab facilities and other agencies. Most work full time but approximately 27% work part time.

The accrediting body for physical therapy is the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and there were 212 entry-level academic programs in 2009. Of these, 12 awarded masters and 200 awarded doctoral degrees as only graduate degree programs can be accredited. A list of accredited educational programs in PT and additional career information can be found on the American Physical Therapy Association website:

Each state regulates the practice of physical therapy and eligibility requirements can vary. In addition to program graduation, PTs take the National Physical Therapy Examination, which they must pass in order to practice their profession. Many states also require continuing education credits as a requirement to maintain licensure, much like registered nurses.

Another crucial professional on the rehab team is the occupational therapist (OT) that forecasts a growth rate of 25.6% or 26,800 new positions. The goal of OTs is to help patients live independent, productive and satisfying lives. Their focus is to develop, recover or maintain the activites of daily living, which might include things like getting dressed, cooking and using a computer. They also assist with memory and problem solving skills plus coordination issues and OTs work with patients to help them reach their full potential.

OTs use adaptive equipment to help the patient and often they design unique solutions that work for that particular patient. Most OTs work full time while 31% work part time and they may work in a hospital, a specialized rehab center, home health, long-term care or other outpatient facility. The largest group (29%) of OTs works in ambulatory healthcare services but OTs can also be self employed in private practice and they treat patients referred by other healthcare professionals.

The accrediting group for OTs is the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) and OTs must attend an accredited program in order to take the national certifying examination. Last year, 150 masters or combined bachelors/masters degree programs were accredited along with 4 doctoral degree programs. States regulate the OT practice just as they do the PTs and additional information can be found on the American Occupational Therapy Association website:

There are additional major players in the rehab sector that all indicate large growth rates that will be required to meet the demands of the future. From rehab RNs and speech-language pathologists to PT assistants (PTAs) and occupational therapy assistants (COTAs), the demand is high. Although the rehab professionals work with patients of all ages, the increase in the elderly population will drive the future numbers. According to the Administration on Aging, the 65 years or older population numbered 39.6 million and represented 12.9% of the U.S. population in 2009. By 2030, this age group will grow to 19% of the overall population and will number 72.1 million.

As human resource professionals, it is imperative that meeting the needs of this healthcare sector is part of your overall strategy. Working with schools, training programs, increased retention efforts and competitive salary and benefits will be high on the list of importance. Stepping outside the box and paying attention to the entire continuum of hiring will become crucial. From the sourcing, hiring process, orientation, onboarding and retention efforts — all will need to be enhanced to meet the future needs of our population.

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