When Steve Layer founded Rock Valley Physical Therapy in 1984, he wanted to go beyond the techniques he learned in school.
Layer was primarily taught a hands-off approach while gaining his physical therapy degree. When starting his practice, Layer spent a lot of resources to self-study manual, hands-on, physical therapy methods that were unavailable in hospitals and other therapy practices.
“Under our model of the hands-on approach, one-on-one with the therapist, our outcomes were just getting better and better,” Layer said.
Demand for these unique therapy services skyrocketed, so Layer ended up working 12-hour days and on weekends. Then he knew it was time to expand.
After building up locations close to the Quad-Cities, Rock Valley continues to expand across Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. Over the past 10 years, the company has increased from 21 locations to 62 by the end of this year, including seven new locations in Omaha.
To sustain the expansion, Layer said he had to acquire new practices mindfully, choosing individuals who would be a good fit to carry out the mission of Rock Valley. The company also required new employees to be certified in the manual techniques that required additional education.
“They truly believed in our approach,” Layer said. “They took that vision and made it their own, they championed it.”
Michelle Sarb, senior physical therapist who works out of Davenport, said when Rock Valley expands, it is looking to serve an “underdog.”
“When we look at what we do in the community, we're looking at those who are not represented,” Sarb said.
Leadership at all Rock Valley locations are still involved in the day-to-day operations, most of whom are therapists who still see patients regularly that makes leaders more in-tune with their locations, according to Layer.
Mike Horsfield, CEO, still sees patients, although sparsely, according to Layer. Although hands-on physical therapy is more common today, Rock Valley offers a diverse range of services that differentiate it from other therapy practices, according to Horsfield. Physical therapists at Rocky Valley offer services that target pelvic health, vestibular training, pediatrics and chronic pain management, often for people who experience substance abuse.
“The physical therapists are continuing to find ways to serve the community in unique roles,” Horsfield said.
The way therapists deliver services to their communities was challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Horsfield. But Rock Valley prioritized professional development for therapists and students throughout the pandemic, as well as innovating a new way to extend their outreach through telemedicine.
Although it was primarily used for patients of all needs during the pandemic, online appointments allow patients at smaller clinics access to specialty treatments offered at larger clinics.
“We can really end up with this team approach to make sure that every community gets all the services Rock Valley has,” Horsfield said.
Sarb, who also serves as the chairperson of Rock Valley’s philanthropic committee, said she got to further Rock Valley’s outreach through organizing philanthropic events across all of Rock Valley’s clinics that raise money for nonprofits.
They also are responsible for making sure employees are taken care of during difficult times, like through cancer diagnoses and have the resources they need.
“I looked elsewhere for [work] one time, after my son was born — he has some complex medical issues,” Sarb said. “Honestly, the way they rapidly took care of me, I don't need to look anywhere else.
"It's cheesy, but it is a family.”