BGSU Magazine Spring 2012
Long after quake, alumnus serves in Haiti
Two years after the earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and devastated Haiti, most of the relief workers and volunteers that responded to the disaster have left the impoverished nation.
Not Larry Benz ’84. The BGSU alumnus and physical therapist supports one of the remaining volunteer organizations committed to permanently serving in Haiti.
At Benz’s urging, staff from his more than 30 physical and occupational therapy practices and a network of other colleagues have volunteered each month since the quake through PT Help for Haiti, a group that operates a clinic in the coastal city of Jacmel. Benz regularly travels there and helps to fund other volunteers through his foundation, Neighborhood Engagement — a faith-based nonprofit he created to provide medical care and other outreach to lowincome and underserved populations.
Their efforts don’t stop with health care. Neighborhood Engagement and the clinic’s volunteers have teamed with local residents to rebuild affordable housing, support an area orphanage, and create new employment opportunities and small businesses for Haitians. He encourages health care volunteers to invite their families to sign up to help with such side projects. His wife and daughter have obliged.
“We’re not trying to save the world. We’re just trying to listen and to build relationships,” Benz said. “We have a lot of Haitian help. Our model is to really become part of the community so they are not dependent on us; they are dependent on each other.”
Though he has been a successful health care provider and entrepreneur for more than 20 years, getting there wasn’t easy. BGSU offered a physical therapy program during his time as a student, but he wasn’t offered a place in it. Benz counts the misfortune as “the best thing that ever happened,” forcing him to pursue a graduate degree.
After Benz obtained his bachelor’s degree in gerontology and biology at BGSU, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army and immediately attended Baylor University to earn his master’s in physical therapy. As he served at military posts in Texas, Oklahoma and Kentucky, Benz gained additional health care experience by working part time at a variety of privately owned clinics. The experience demonstrated that his skills and his employers’ services were — and remain — wildly in demand.
“There was more demand for physical therapy than could be accommodated,” Benz said. “It’s better and cheaper to have rehabilitation than unnecessary surgery and pain medications.”
Something clicked. It seemed natural to run his own practice.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent.”
Benz has major success in business ventures, an executive MBA degree and a doctorate on his resume. Two nieces also earned degrees at his alma mater. Benz used his education and experience to build a consortium of 60 physical therapy and sports medicine clinics. After he sold the corporation in 2007, he promptly shifted his gaze to new opportunities. He now operates more than 35 clinics in four states, and his continuing education company, Evidence in Motion, has become a prominent name brand in the industry. He has also invested in the for-profit Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, in Provo, Utah, and opened dozens of on-site physical and occupational therapy practices through his Fit For Work company.
He found his niche in the industry, and believes that careers in physical or occupational therapy offer plenty of opportunities to students.
“Despite the changes in health care, and the length of schooling you have to go through, follow through if physical therapy is what you have in your heart,” Benz suggests to students at BGSU.
And following his heart is one of the reasons he found himself in Haiti.
Though Benz had already spent three years volunteering in one of the world’s most impoverished nations when disaster struck, it wasn’t easy to confront the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Weeks afterward, volunteers were still uncovering bodies. Orphanages were overwhelmed. Some families broken by loss even abandoned their babies among the trash and rubble.
He’ll never forget the grandmother who had tossed her infant grandchild out a window to safety before her home collapsed on top of her. It took him days to convince her to start moving and to participate in therapy, with external pins and braces supporting her shattered leg.
“It’s hard, because follow-up is so difficult,” Benz said of the patients’ medical needs after surgery and therapy. “But Haitian people are wonderful. They are so thankful and appreciative of what you do.”
Benz’s team of therapists helped to rehabilitate Haitians who had survived the disaster against all odds. Many were learning to live without a limb, or with another new disability. The work isn’t over.
“Therapists from all over made sacrifices, gave up their patients and their practices to volunteer,” Benz said. “It’s just been rewarding on multiple levels. The proudest thing is that we are still there.”