Bergantino: Rehab Will Always Be Local

In the Midst of Expansion, ATG Rehab CEO Touts the Importance of a Local Mindset

LAS VEGAS - Even in a town known for faux world landmarks - where a Manhattan skyline co-exists with an Eiffel Tower, a pyramid and a lava-spewing volcano - ATG Rehab CEO/President Paul Bergantino emphasized the power of "local" thinking.

ATG Rehab ( managers and ATPs gathered at The Mirage for their annual National Education Conference to see the latest in seating & mobility technology and sharpen their business best practices. The last few years have been dynamic ones for ATG, with newsworthy growth that continues. But despite that growth, Bergantino believes a key to the company's success remains its local mindset.

Avoiding Growing Pains

Bergantino acknowledged that complex rehab technology providers continue to face big-time challenges in terms of coverage policy and documentation requirements. But the ATG team places great importance on being able to recognize the specific needs of the individual markets and communities that ATG serves.

That's been especially crucial in recent years, as ATG has expanded significantly through acquisitions. While gathering dozens of managers and ATPs for a national meeting is always a major logistical task, even more challenging is creating a daily environment that encourages cohesion rather than disparity.

"It's always a challenge to incorporate all these different companies and all these different cultures into one," Bergantino said. "About six years ago, when we first started these national meetings, it looked like a few different companies were in the room, rather than the unified team we are today."

Indeed, the group that came together in Vegas - about 100 ATPs and managers - was dynamic and energetic, whether discussing wheelchair propulsion methods, work order processing or the winning way to stack five Red Delicious apples (more on that later).

An Education Concentration

Education was the conference's main focus, with ATPs attending ATG Rehab-led sessions on April 10 followed by sessions hosted by The MED Group on April 11 (see related MMBeat story).

"On the clinical side, our goal was to provide CEU educational presentations with substance...for our ATPs to be able to attend these educational sessions and truly add to their skill sets rather than just secure the required credits," Bergantino said.

Cody Verrett, ATG's VP of sales & marketing, said of the conference, "The major goal for us is to find a balance between quality education for the ATPs on subjects that are really important to ATG - whether it's tablet training or moving orders in process - while at the same time being able to give them the CEUs that they need as ATPs."

The structure for the ATG-hosted conference was unique: There were 10 teams, each with about 10 members, and the teams moved through 10 educational "stations" set up in a large ballroom. Each session lasted 30 minutes.

Four of the stations were hosted by complex rehab technology manufacturers: Frank Mobility, Invacare Corp., Permobil and Quantum Rehab.

While ATPs attended a lunchtime session with Sunrise Medical, the stations were disassembled, and exhibitors moved in.

Verrett, speaking to Mobility Management from outside the ballroom where the educational sessions were being held, was pleased by the number of exhibitors participating in the evening's exhibit hall. More than two dozen exhibitors attended, forming the largest exhibitor presence in the conference's history.

"We have an obligation to our ATPs to have a broad base of knowledge and education exposure to all of the manufacturers," he noted. "So this year, we brought in ASL, who's here for the first time. TiLite's here with us as well this year; Switch-It is here. My goal is to try to make sure our ATPs are skilled and knowledgeable about all the products that are out there in the industry."

Verrett added that he wanted ATPs to be familiar even with very specialized, niche-oriented technology.

"I felt that obligation to our ATPs, to give them very wide product exposure to different manufacturers that maybe they don't work with every day," he said. "It could be a new product that could be a great solution for them down the road. Stealth (Products) is another example of that: They make a lot of great products and great hardware solutions, and there's only a couple of companies in the whole country that make those types of devices."

Achieving a Balance

Verrett and Bergantino said a lot of thought and planning went into the event's format, which featured a large number of shorter sessions, rather than a few long sessions delivered in lecture-hall style.

"One of the things I've learned over the years is when you get a group of people together in a large audience, watching a deck of slides, the interaction doesn't go too well," Verrett said. "You don't hear from everybody. We're really wanting to hear from our ATPs, so putting them in smaller groups would make them more comfortable about speaking up, voicing their concerns and really interacting and learning."

With 30-minute sessions, he added, "you're really not stagnant for very long. You're constantly moving."

Topics of the sessions ranged from justification for standing wheelchairs (Amy Morgan, PT, ATP, Permobil) to power-assist systems (Theresa Berner, MOT, OTR/L, ATP, on behalf of Frank Mobility). On the business management side, Bergantino said, "We held a series of small, interactive sessions designed to help improve our ATPs' effectiveness. These focused programs, led by industry experts, related to the 'business' side of the CRT transaction. These sessions allowed our ATP and management attendees to hone in on advanced use of ATP Express (an automated computer tablet), selling fundamentals, payor contract specifics, fine-tuning transaction best practices, etc. All revolved around improving delivering times to customers, reducing transaction 'touches' and maximizing efficiency."

While efficiency can be accomplished in many ways, Bergantino says ATG's corporate structure has been a key part of its success.

"Because rehab is local and it will always be local as we grow, we've structured the regions to where we have four region presidents," he said. (The presidents are Frank Biondello [northeast, midwest, & southeast]; Michele Longo [mountain region]; Jerry Knight [Northern California & Pacific northwest]; and Eamonn Casey [southwest]). "In a sense, they're running their own businesses within our organization. We've centralized and taken away the non-customer functions like HR and legal and purchasing so they can focus on the customer-touch functions."

That structure, Bergantino notes, means that even in the midst of ATG's substantial growth, clinicians and customers are still calling in and talking to their local ATPs, who understand the requirements and needs of local funding sources, as well as the needs of individual clients and families. Deciding which functions to centralize and which to keep local, Bergantino said, has been a challenge. "We've made mistakes, but at this point, we've clearly struck the right balance," he said.

Speaking of balance: For its keynote speaker, ATG chose Chris Waddell, who balances incredible athletic feats with tireless advocacy for people with disabilities. A champion Paralympian, Waddell's effort to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro is the focus of One Revolution, now playing at film festivals around the country.

As he showed photos of his ascent - including ones in which he and his chair seemingly defy gravity - Waddell explained that the important part of any life is "what you do with what happens to you."

And while the National Education Conference boasted a packed schedule, a memorable morning break involved finding balance of a different type. Each team was given five apples, and each team member had 60 seconds to stack the apples, one atop the next, into a column (no apple disfigurement allowed).

ATPs attacked the contest with all the determination you would expect from folks who build highly specialized solutions for a living. And they succeeded. After all, for professionals used to meeting the exacting requirements of payors, clinicians, clients and caregivers, how hard can stacking apples be?

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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