Home Business Focus – Physiotherapist Katie Ireland

Bess Fraser

In this Home Business Focus interview, The Mainstreeter’s Bess Fraser talks shop with registered physiotherapist Katie Ireland, who also holds group fitness and personal training qualifications. Over the last 20 years, she has effectively combined her love of training and fitness with her passion for helping clients through injury or pain. The current pandemic has presented challenges and opportunities for her and her unique business.

Ireland says that “it’s the people that make Old Ottawa East such a special place to work. I have met so many incredible people during my classes and physiotherapy sessions. Some have become lifelong friends and others remain a friendly face when we pass on the street. I feel so lucky to have been supported by the community.”

The Mainstreeter: Katie, you seem to have a rather unique local practice here in Old Ottawa East. How would you describe the component parts?

Ireland: There are three parts to my practice, beginning with one-on-one physiotherapy assessment and treatment, directed to adults, young athletes and in-home treatment for seniors. With COVID-19, I have been forced to learn how to direct my services via ZOOM. It has gone smoothly but it has challenged me to deliver physiotherapy a bit differently. I feel privileged that I can still interact with my clients online, but I really worry about the impact on seniors.

OOE Physiotherapist and fitness trainer Katie Ireland is working hard to adapt her home business during times of COVID-19. Supplied Photo

OOE Physiotherapist and fitness trainer Katie Ireland is working hard to adapt her home business during times of COVID-19. Supplied Photo

The second practice area is one-on-one fitness training. This aspect has attracted many women 60+ who are looking to improve strength and bone density, lose body fat and simply feel better overall. My clients usually have a past injury that requires assistance and building an exercise program to address rehabilitation goals or make modifications.

Finally, I offer Bootcamp class for women only, which attracts women 35 years and older. I love working with this group; they have busy lives and save one to two hours each week to devote to their health. They trust me 100% and come open-minded to every class.

The Mainstreeter: And then along comes COVID-19! What have you had to do to adapt your practice to the restrictions of the pandemic?

Ireland: Initially, I was advised by the College of Physiotherapy to stop all home-based services. Frankly, I was shocked we were not considered to be essential workers. For the first two weeks, I thought the break was great, but I worried about my clients, especially the seniors. Once the restrictions on earnings were loosened, I was able to reach out to my clients and instantly we were working through ZOOM. My caseload is less and limited, but it has given me purpose and allowed me to help my kids with their schooling.

With COVID-19, I have grown my partnership with the Community Activities Group (CAG) in OOE, and we have gone online. It has turned out to be a chance for growth. CAG has supported me in keeping classes running. I now teach four classes per week, two in the evening and two in the morning. I have had a great attendance rate. The two extra classes per week fulfills a five-year dream for me. Since we are online, there is no travel time to consider – I simply show up in people’s living room straight from my living room.

For those Bootcampers who cannot afford to attend classes, I run a private Facebook group, where I post workouts and nutrition advice. My personal training clients opted out of tele-health, but we did a few sessions early on to get their programs updated and to set expectations. I also delivered equipment for those that were in need.

This COVID-19 situation has demonstrated people’s need for accountability. A lot of clients resist coming for regular visits, but it is so important for fitness and rehabilitation goals. These visits allow me to fine-tune their program; sometimes it is technique, sometimes a regression and often a progression. I have learned that when accountability is missing, clients skip their exercises. I can relate, since clearly motivation during this time has been particularly challenging for most people. I am really proud of my clients that have chosen to work with me for support and accountability.

Pictured here prior to COVID-19, Katie Ireland leads strength and fitness Bootcamps in the community.

Pictured here prior to COVID-19, Katie Ireland leads strength and fitness Bootcamps in the community.

The Mainstreeter: What are your thoughts on the future if and when we are able to return to circumstances that existed prior to the pandemic?

Ireland: As restrictions are being lifted, I am starting to think about my first phase of return to work. I have ordered gloves and masks, and plan to visit the seniors first in order to help get them moving regularly again. From my perspective, they are a very vulnerable demographic for many reasons. I will be limited on how many visits per week I can make.

It will be tricky and a new way of thinking. Overall, I feel lucky that I am a sole proprietor. I have more flexibility than physiotherapists in a clinic and I can adapt my schedule to meet my clients’ needs. With a model of one-on-one care, I feel the steps to reducing the spread of COVID-19 will be easier to follow, but we will have to wait and see.

The Mainstreeter: What are the lessons that COVID-19 has taught you about the business and about yourself?

Ireland: I have learned that my life was crazy before COVID-19. We were all disconnected and running to just complete all the events in our lives. I was exhausted and experiencing burnout. We took time for granted. I find it hard to slow down, but it has been a gift for many reasons. I think our family bond will be stronger when this is done.

I have also learned that I love teaching group fitness, it has been fun yelling commands into my computer and coming up with home workouts every week. I will definitely be keeping some online classes once we return to “normal”.

I am still waiting to hear from the College of Physiotherapy in order to commence home visits. I am also constantly updating clients and scheduling future visits when they feel comfortable. I will start slow, in order to balance my family with work life and reduce the risk of spreading the virus. My PPE is starting to arrive, so I will be ready in the next few weeks. I will only do home visits at first and restrict clients from coming to my home until further notice.

The Mainstreeter: To conclude, what are the greatest rewards for you in your business dealings with clients in this community?

Ireland: It is always rewarding to see people meet their goals, and everyone’s goal is different. I am not a miracle worker, but I have helped a lot of people return to sports they love, to maintain independent movement in their home, to recover post-surgery, lose weight, have more energy, be able to care for their family pain-free.

My greatest rewards are always through the education I can provide. I think I forget the knowledge I possess is not common practice to everyone.

And lastly, I think I give people hope. Our medical system is set up to rush people through the process. I believe everyone has the potential to improve until they have exhausted all methods, and that can take a long time. Big rewards come when doubting clients start to see a light in their rehabilitation journey.

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