For the last several years, Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers has been on an ambitious expansion plan into new markets. Hopebridge’s plans are also happening as the pandemic has forced over half of behavioral health organizations nationwide to close programs.
In spite of the closures and a move away from in-person services across behavioral health, Hopebridge has continued full speed ahead with its expansion efforts – with more on the way for 2022.
“This has been something that the organization has had a consistent track record of,” Hopebridge CEO Dennis May told Behavioral Health Business about the addition of new centers. “This year will certainly be one of our larger years.”
Founded in 2005, Indianapolis-based Hopebridge specializes in providing applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), along with offering occupation, speech and feeding therapies. Its clientele ranges from as early as 18 months to as old as 12 years, with services covered by various commercial insurances and Medicaid.
Hopebridge’s expansion in recent times has been significant, as it operated just 14 facilities nationwide at the end of 2017. Less than two years later, Hopebridge had increased its facility count to 40.
By the time the pandemic took full effect in March 2020, the provider had upped its number of facilities to around 50, with even more scheduled to come online by the following 12-18 months.
Now, with over 100 locations in 12 states, Hopedbridge is launching the next chapter of its growth, as it recently announced that it would be opening 40 clinics across the country this year.
How Hopebridge is growing its footprint
Hopebridge provider’s expansion strategy fits into an overall increased need for autism care, as currently 1 in 44 American children have been diagnosed with ASD. It is an expansion that is not being affected by an overall navigation of behavioral health providers to telehealth, due in large part to the fact that many children with ASD have problems with visual stimuli.
May noted that telehealth makes up no more than an ancillary part of Hopebridge’s overall services.
“We will use telehealth to augment parent training, to have an experience in the patient’s home [and] better understand [the] home environment,” he said. “But we do fairly little telehealth today.”
For May, Hopebridge’s expansion is also about meeting that need where it might take a long time for a child to receive assistance.
One unpublished finding of over 900 caregivers conducted by the University of Pennsylvania estimates that 1 and 5 families have to move in order to receive high quality autism services for children.
“Though you’ve seen an expansion of good providers, there’s still just a gap in services,” he said. “You have wait times that can approach and even exceed a year.”
A major part of Hopebridge’s growth has been centered around cluster strategies in given markets, which take into account the ease of drive times for families to facilities – as children will often come for services five days a week.
Cluster strategies were also part of plans announced last year by Hopebridge to add up to 30 new facilities in Florida, a state that it would be making its initial foray into.
“The remainder of the locations will open over the next 12 to 18 months from today, so 2022 is going to be a very busy year for Hopebridge and Florida,” May told BHB last August when its entrée into the Sunshine State was announced.
Those plans remain a big part of Hopebridge’s current expansion, in addition to the provider having recently announced that it would be entering North Carolina this year with the opening of up to 15 new locations.
May particularly cited the strength of health care networks in North Carolina as an impetus for expanding into the state. He also said that Hopebridge’s prospective North Carolina clinicians will have the opportunity to further develop their careers and become board certified behavioral analysts through a fellowship program it offers.
“As we think about North Carolina … we’re very focused on partnering with that state,” he said. “[We are] not just planning a couple flags. We’re serving a broad number of communities and underserved communities in those markets.”
If all goes well, Hopebridge will have hired up to 4,000 new employees by the end of the year to accompany its expansion of locations and services. Hopebridge’s growth plans, according to May, will be accomplished through a mix of de novo facilities and acquisitions.
Recently, Hopebridge purchased Little Rock, Arkansas-based Autism In Motion Clinics (AIM), which provides services in Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee.
“We are really aligned with the clinical team and the leadership team there around quality and the importance of strong clinical protocols,” May said regarding the acquisition. “The way that we think about providing fantastic care, and the way that AIM thinks about providing fantastic care, [are] carbon copies.”
May asserted that Hopebridge’s expansion would ultimately lean toward de novos. He said that the overall expansion would be aided greatly by the financial backing it currently has from Arsenal Capital Partners, which took a majority stake in the provider in 2019.
“We’ve been able to make these capital investments in large part because we’ve had great financial sponsors throughout our history, with Arsenal being our most recent addition to that team,” he said. “They’ve been very focused on serving underserved communities.”
As ABA providers continue to grow along with the overall autism care market – which is growing at an estimated 4% year-over-year clip – May believes that they must do so while remaining “mission-based,” of which he categorizes Hopebridge.
“You have to make sure that as you’re serving more communities, and scaling your business across more communities, that the experience, the clinical quality and the experience for both of your team members and for the child and the family is the same,” he said.