Jennifer Ruckner and her team at Tots to Teens Therapy Services recently expanded their operation and opened new offices at the intersection of the Prince William Parkway and Hoadly Road. They currently serve more than 200 families with at least one type of therapy.
"In our bigger facility, we can now help more families,” says Ruckner. "We were delayed opening due to COVID-19, but we are so happy to be in our new home.”
Tots to Teens started in 2008 with a Prince William County Public Schools contract for early intervention speech therapy, but 14 years later, they now offer occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language therapy in Woodbridge and in Stafford County. The business grew through word of mouth, but when they transitioned to an insurance model of practicing, business expanded quickly.
"Speech is the largest entry point for our community, but often, more services are needed due to delays in childhood milestones and disorders that impact their daily lives,” explains Ruckner. “We can provide those additional therapies, and that continuity can be very comforting for children and for their families.”
That consistency was disrupted when COVID-19 hit, and new restrictions required that they work with children and their families differently. In the fall of 2020, Rucker learned about Prince William County's Small Business Technical Assistance Program (SBTAP) through her membership at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
"I have to say that joining the Prince William Chamber of Commerce during COVID-19 was critical for us,” says Ruckner. “I’m grateful that their membership manager Heather Stietzel reached out to us. It’s been a great experience for me personally.”
SBTAP was established by the Prince William County Department of Economic Development through the CARES Act to ensure small business viability through increased productivity and management systems, especially as it related to making informed business decisions to withstand the economic impacts of COVID-19.
From September 2020 to April 2021, the program connected small businesses with counselors at the Mason Small Business Development Center (Mason SBDC) and then funded the subject matter experts to execute services.
Through the SBTAP one-on-one counseling with Mason SBDC, Ruckner and her team identified the need to meet compliance standards with HIPAA regulations while expanding tele-therapy services.
"It was very reassuring to find out that we were doing many things correctly,” says Ruckner. “We were already offering tele-therapy as an option for our families, but where we needed help was overcoming the additional hurdle of protecting our clients’ privacy and personal information in the virtual world."
After identifying the goal, Ruckner received funding to work with the SBTAP service vendor TSI-VA to ensure her tele-therapy services were compliant for insurance companies. Now Tots to Teens Therapy Services provides help to families both in person and via tele-therapy. Additionally, more and more insurance companies have recognized that tele-therapy is effective, so they cover more of those services.
"We have been advocates for tele-therapy in Virginia for some time, but COVID-19 sped up the acceptance process," says Ruckner. "We take into account the entire team, and we consider the family very much a part of the team, when it comes to providing therapy."
Tots to Teens provides daily routines and new strategies, but when parents or other family members help them every day, they progress pretty quickly. Young children have spent a significant percentage of their lives wearing masks, and Tots to Teens is seeing a greater demand for speech therapy, as well as occupational therapy.
"This has been extraordinarily difficult for children and parents,” says Ruckner. "We are able to help children learn important language and occupational skills, and we can help the parents learn how to reinforce those as well. Opening our new center allows us to bring on more therapists and to serve more children. It’s very rewarding to fill this huge need here in Prince William County."