If it seems like a lot of outpatient physical therapy clinics are short-staffed these days, that’s because a lot of outpatient physical therapy clinics are short-staffed these days, according to a new benchmark report from APTA and APTA Private Practice. The survey-based APTA report found that, on average, outpatient providers were operating earlier this year with a vacancy rate of about 16%, with PTs being the employee category with the most severe shortages.

Titled “Hiring Challenges in Outpatient Physical Therapy Practice,” the report is based on analysis of survey responses from 133 outpatient physical therapy practices across the U.S. representing 2,615 clinics and nearly 11,000 full-time equivalent employee positions that included PTs, PTAs, and support staff. In terms of practice size, 62% of respondents were practices with between one and four sites; 4.7% reported owning more than 50 sites. The survey was conducted between May 25 and June 16 in collaboration with Vault Consulting.

In broad terms, the report reveals that the coronavirus pandemic ramped up an already-existing shortage of personnel in outpatient clinics, but that relocation and pay — rather than concerns about the pandemic — are the main factors driving employees’ decisions to leave a clinic. The result: vacancy rates that have reached “significant” levels, according to the report.

Among the findings:

  • The total vacancy rate reported by practices averaged 16%. Vacancy rates were highest for PTs, at 17%, followed by 14% for support personnel, and 13% for PTAs. Nearly 80% of respondents reported at least a 5% vacancy rate across all positions.
  • When asked to compare the number of job openings they had before the pandemic with current openings, 60% of respondents said vacancies had increased, with 40% of those estimating that vacancies had grown by 50% or more since 2019.
  • Nearly 41% of practices reported more turnover in the first part of 2022 compared with the same time period in 2019, with 18.5% reporting less turnover in 2022 compared with 2019.
  • When asked to rank why they think employees left their clinics, 37.3% of the business owners cited relocation as the primary reason, with 67.8% placing it in the top three reasons they lost employees. Pay was also a frequently cited reason for leaving, with 25.4% of respondents saying it was the primary reason for employee loss and 63.5% placing it among the top three.
  • Work-life balance figured heavily into the owners’ perceptions of why they lost employees, with 77.1% of respondents placing the issue in the top three reasons, and 22.9% saying it was the primary reason for employee loss.
  • Respondents believe that concerns about COVID-19 did not play a big factor in employee loss, with only 1.7% of owners saying it was the primary reason and 11.9% placing those concerns among the top three reasons for leaving.

The report states that the intention behind the study is to “provide APTA members with key benchmarks that will allow them to gain insights into the state of the current workforce,” allowing practice owners to compare their own staffing challenges with those being faced by similar-sized practices in different geographic areas.

APTA and APTA Private Practice intend to continue to collect workforce data and produce future benchmark reports.

[Source: APTA]