Always on Guard

In the face of exponential expansion, Jason Barclay ensures that Athletico Physical Therapy is always one step ahead against risk

When it comes to his role and responsibilities at Athletico Physical Therapy, Jason Barclay sees himself—and the company at large—similar to that of a soccer goalie. “As the lawyers for healthcare providers, we are there to play defense against risk,” Barclay says. As the goalie in this scenario, Barclay guards the company against outside threats from regulators, competitors, and the like. At the same time, he and his legal team work to facilitate victories and progress from their company to “put our forwards in the right position to score.” Detailed analogy aside, Barclay believes it is a succinct descriptor for the function he plays in Athletico’s continued success: “to create conditions to help clinicians provide high-quality care to our patients.”

For the past twenty-five years, Athletico Physical Therapy has rapidly grown from a single-clinic orthopedic rehabilitation organization to a healthcare titan, with more than 450 clinics located across eleven states. Barclay, general counsel and chief compliance officer of Athletico, has been vital to the company’s continued growth since he joined the company in 2016, the latest step in a fascinating career that has combined counseling in both the public and private sectors.

Jason Barclay, Athletico Physical Therapy

Starting out as a litigator at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Barclay learned important lessons from the partners and staff at such a large outfit. “The most effective communicators were those who could take complex topics and communicate them in a simple way,” Barclay recalls as one of the most important lessons he learned.

Along with making partner at Barnes, Barclay’s legal career prior to Athletico involved him taking two sabbaticals to work in government. The first was to work as the general counsel and policy director of Mitch Daniels’s gubernatorial campaign in Indiana, then as general counsel for Illinois governor Bruce Rauner for two years. Afterward, he received the opportunity to become Athletico’s general counsel and chief compliance officer and hasn’t looked back.

Barclay’s own career trajectory and developmental growth have largely matched that of Athletico’s, with his own legal department being expected to grow just as Athletico grows year over year. He credits his team’s sheer dedication and work ethic for this success. “There’s an expression Mitch Daniels likes to use: ‘Opportunity is often missed because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like hard work,’” Barclay says. “There’s no magic bullet, no reliance on luck—just seizing opportunities and being willing to roll your sleeves up.” Using a team-first approach and taking care to hire only the best therapists in the market, Barclay and the Athletico team prefer to keep their heads down and power through the gradual progress needed to get ahead.

This team-first approach, Barclay believes, puts Athletico at a unique advantage, particularly in his work as general counsel. “I am not the smartest guy in the room, but I know I have the best team in this business working with me,” Barclay explains. “With the speed at which we have to make decisions, I rely upon that team to look at all possible downsides of a decision.”

In a healthcare industry that is constantly changing—with more government regulations to navigate as time passes—Barclay’s major challenge is to anticipate which way the wind will blow. “Government has its own language, and companies in this industry need a translator,” says Barclay, whose history in public government service gives him an advantage when it comes to anticipating policy changes. Among the major changes he has implemented include a ticketing system for both clinicians and their legal department, in which staff have a maximum of forty-eight hours to answer every single request.

This cuts down on lingering issues with patients, contracts, and billing, as well as streamlines the process for everyone. This is the first of many innovations Barclay hopes to provide for Athletico. At all times, Barclay notes, he works to be in the position where “we don’t have to react to, but we can instead shape changes in healthcare.” This means being proactive and staying plugged into industry trends and advancements in medical technology. Barclay says he must continually ask himself: “How can our business be on the leading edge of using technology to provide high-quality care to patients?” By keeping in touch with the innovations and developments in the healthcare industry, Barclay can stay apprised of how Athletico can best serve its patients.

Barclay also believes that Athletico’s business model, which he calls, “community-based healthcare in a retail setting,” will help it continue to grow and remain a leader in the healthcare industry. Accessibility is paramount to Athletico’s mission, says Barclay. “If you have a hip replacement, you don’t want to navigate—figuratively and literally—a huge, convoluted hospital system,” he says. “You want to be able to communicate easily with your healthcare professional and pull up to the front door for each visit.”

Whether it’s through new technological advances, greater physical access to locations, or cutting through more government red tape, Barclay is more than confident that, as Athletico grows, so too will patients’ access to affordable, high-quality healthcare.

Photo: Ebony Cotton