- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Tricia Biehl’s son Bentley was born with challenges unlike any she’d experienced with her three other children.

As an infant, he didn’t kick or move his left side, the result of mild cerebral palsy. He also has a condition in which his brain tissue extends into his spinal canal. He had trouble eating and did not crawl. As he grew, so did the number of problems.

Bentley needed professional help to manage the challenges. That is how Biehl discovered therapists at TEIS.

“These women were better than any doctor that my son has seen yet,” said Biehl of Irwin. “I can’t say enough about what they did, how far they brought him.”

Forest Hills-based TEIS- an acronym for Therapeutic Early Intervention Services -has become a lifeline for a growing number of families of infants and toddlers with special needs. It is a major provider of early childhood intervention services in Allegheny County, where more than 4,000 children younger than 3 receive services. TEIS also works with families in Westmoreland County and provides evaluations for early intervention in Beaver County.

The company provides these services for free to families, paid for with federal, state and county tax dollars.

It is a rare outfit operating in a field dominated by independent contractors. TEIS strives to give its therapists the administrative, training and peer support that founders Tara Deringor and Julie Hudak found to be lacking when they worked as physical therapists and started the company in 2004.

“If you’re an independent contractor, you’re isolated,” Hudak said. “It’s hard to keep up that training level and enthusiasm. Who do you run things off of? That’s why Tara and I started this business, because we started as independent contractors and we both felt so uncomfortable out there.”

The company employs 52 therapists, organized into teams with managers who document their performance and training. TEIS manages the human resources, regulatory requirements and other administrative functions, freeing therapists to focus on their work, Hudak said.

Therapists are required to have 24 hours of continuing education a year, but TEIS says its therapists average between 50 and 80 hours, much of it provided by the company. As a result, they have access to the latest research and methods that make them more effective at their jobs. TEIS is the most requested provider of early intervention services in Allegheny County, according to the county’s Department of Human Services.

The company prides itself on efficiency. The number of families working with TEIS increased 21 percent between 2011 and 2014, even though revenue increased just 1.8 percent, according to the company. Most of the families TEIS serves live in Allegheny County, where the company collected $1.9 million to treat 1,537 children in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to DHS. The company did not disclose financial figures.

Hudak and Deringor worked at the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh when they decided to start the company. Both women have business degrees and felt a company-like structure was needed to organize and support therapists.

“The more we looked into it, what we found was everybody was an independent contractor, and there was nothing really helping them grow as professionals and be the best that they could be,” Deringor said.

Katie Blauth, a speech language pathologist, said she has enjoyed the support she has received since TEIS hired her more than two years ago. She said the company is “the whole package.”

“I think it comes down to that training they provide us, and a lot of that training is around how we can be better coaches to the families,” Blauth said.

Jaime Renda said a TEIS therapist coached her on how to work with her 2-year-old son, Colin, who has been receiving speech therapy for about a year.

Colin has made dramatic improvements, largely because Renda has learned how to reinforce lessons at home.

“I think I learned to slow down my speech to help him, enunciate more and look at his perspective,” Renda said.

Biehl’s son, Bentley, worked with a team of TEIS therapists- occupational, speech, physical, as well as a nutritionist -to address his many needs.

Now 4, Bentley is too old for the early intervention program. But in working with her son at home, Biehl uses techniques she learned from TEIS.

Bentley’s problems haven’t disappeared, but he is managing well, she said. He can speak. He can walk.

“Without (TEIS), he couldn’t,” she said. “I don’t think that he would be speaking. I think we would have ended up with a feeding tube, for sure. I’m not even sure that he would walk.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1K4hl3n

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com


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