Todd Robbins grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Schuyler, New York, where his father worked 16 hour days tending to the livestock. From childhood, Robbins worked alongside his dad morning, noon and night. Rain or shine.
It’s where he learned that being your own boss meant hard work, but that it came with the freedom to live life on your own terms.
The experience on the farm shaped Robbins as he grew, and he decided early on that one day he would work for himself, too.
“I never saw myself as an employee,” he said. “I don’t think I would be a good one. I’m better working for me. It’s what I know.”
In fact, Robbins has been working for himself since he was 24 and launched Robbins Rehabilitation, a Lehigh Valley-based physical therapy practice, with his twin brother, Travis.
Today, at 41, Robbins has guided the company on a journey of growth and change. Robbins’ branch of the business, Robbins Rehabilitation East, now operates three locations, one in Easton, and two in New Jersey, one in Phillipsburg and the other in Lebanon.
Robbins Rehabilitation East remains staunchly independent, despite frequent attempts by the larger Lehigh Valley health networks to buy him out. “I am too young to retire,” he said. “If I were to be bought out, I wouldn’t have control over how I want to run my team or treat my patients. When the hospital tells you what to do it’s not always good for the patient.”
Robbins said that it’s important for him to operate Robbins Rehabilitation as a patient-outcome centered practice, not a high-volume, high-turnover practice, such a larger health network might expect.
The health networks put a lot of pressure on independent practices, he said. There is sort of an “offer you can’t refuse” feeling. The offers sound something like: “Do you want to come with us or do you want us to open a competing place across the street?”
Robbins doesn’t fear that competition, he said.
“The big networks have advertising budgets that are more than my entire budget,” he said, “but I don’t consider them my competition. We are more of a mom-and-pop shop. People will always look for that. A person who wants to go to the big hospitals isn’t going to want to come here.”
He admits that, for many independents, the challenge of running a business can make them vulnerable to buy-out efforts by large networks.
“As medical practitioners, we have no background in business,” he said. “We are getting paid less and less, and we have to be more and more efficient. At some point, a lot of doctors are saying, ‘Did I go to school for this?’ It’s easy to get frustrated with the business end, and just let yourself be swallowed up. You have to be able to be both a businessman and a health practitioner to survive.”
It’s tempting to give in and let someone else deal with the “headaches,” but Robbins insists on going his own way. “I don’t want to be told how to practice.”
For Robbins, the way to practice is to build individual relationships with patients.
“All of our therapists are manually trained and we are doing hands on work with every single person who comes through,” he said. “Most other places are not doing that.”
Then there’s the myth that patients need a doctor’s referral for their insurance to pay for it.
“You don’t need to go to the doctor first,” he said. “You can get in to see us in 24 hours.”
Most of his patients have already been to the doctor and are taking medications that don’t work, or are considering considered surgery. He wants to change the common viewpoint that surgery, pain meds and injections are the first option to heal.
“We are the cheapest form of medicine, no question,” he said. “We can fix problems that surgery would attempt to treat for tens of thousands of dollars.”
Then he points to research showing that physical therapy is more effective than surgery, injections and medications.
Robbins has a goal of 10 Robbins Rehabilitation sites in 10 years.
While the demands of the physical therapy practice sometimes necessitate long days, Robbins says he makes time for his wife and two boys, ages 8 and 10.
“I think about how I grew up on a dairy farm,” he said. “If I was spending time with my dad, I was working with him. Now I don’t want it to be like that for my children, but there’s value in time working together. And I may work 12 hours today but my dad worked 16.
“If you look at it that way,” he adds with a smile, “I’m going home early tonight.”