For 20 years as a physical therapist with a large corporation, Denise Smith worked hard to help hurting people.
She loved working with people, but when she began climbing up the corporate ladder into managerial work, she missed seeing patients and helping them progress.
Even when she could schedule time with her beloved clients, she was rushed by corporate industry goals to get more of them in and out. It just wasn’t why she went into physical therapy (PT).
That’s when Denise saw an opening, and decided it was her chance to head in another direction.
“I left my job in 2015 – burned out. I was seeing 25 patients a day. I saw that my life was going to be a middle management thing, not practicing PT like I wanted to and not giving patients what they deserved. So I thought ‘Let’s give it a shot’ to start my own business and it worked,” she said.
For the last five years, Denise has been working hard, building the Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy in Crystal Lake that now also offers a second office in St. Charles. Today, she has six employees – a typical small business in Illinois.
It wasn’t easy to make it work. Denise had managed clinics, but she wasn’t prepared for the business part of helping people become healthier.
“I know physical therapy, but I didn’t know business much at all,” she said. “I relied on friends to help me that had more business experience. It was hard.”
She was just hitting her stride when COVID-19 hit earlier this year. The one-on-one patient treatment her clinic provides was restricted, and that led to major struggles for a business dependent on that personal interaction.
The day that Denise had to tell her staff they would be forced to furlough during the COVID-19 crisis was one of the toughest she’s experienced as a business owner.
“There were a lot of tears shed that day, and the staff was so understanding – it was hard,” she said. “But we had hope they would be back soon. I worked long hours here alone, helping first responders that were putting in long hours caring for seriously ill patients. I not only provided physical therapy, but it became very emotional for us all. But it was worth it to hear they were sleeping through the night, or their shoulder or back pain had subsided.”
On June 1, Denise was able to bring back one of her therapists, and she’s bringing back the other one this week. Then she’ll finally be back up to full staff. She explains that being a business owner rather than a corporate employee dramatically changes one’s perspective.
“Working for a corporation, I had the image that someone at the top made a lot of money, like CEOs trying to line their pockets. You know, the ‘big bad business’ view,” she said. “Now, as the business owner, I’m not even paying myself. I’m paying my staff and take whatever scraps are left over.”
Sometimes, especially in a business’ early days, owners are just working to pay their employees. It really changes why they work, Denise said. So the news that she may be forced to send more of what little she’s making to the state if the progressive tax amendment passes in November was devastating.
“I’m an LLC – a pass through business,” Denise said. “The progressive tax plan could put an extra 60 percent tax hike on LLCs. We’re just getting our feet planted and any money coming in the door we make, we put back into the business.
“After the COVID-19 crisis, I am just now beginning to pay myself – and it is minimal – although I know people think we’re rolling in the dough. My PTs make twice as much money as I do, although I work a lot more hours. I’m not complaining, this is my choice,” she said.
Any money that’s left over after taxes and expenses, Denise says she puts back into her business – to grow it, to hire more therapists.
“We are advanced, but keeping up with these large corporations with more resources is hard. You find your niche, and you have to purchase equipment that puts you in place,” she said. “I’d like to put more money into the business and continue helping community charities, but I can’t if they raise taxes again.”
To have a potential 60 percent state income tax hike in Illinois would set back the progress Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy has made this summer – and Denise does not want to lose any of the staff she’s fought so hard to regain.
But the issue is bigger than that.
The income tax hike is just another reason for other health care entrepreneurs to start their practices in states other than Illinois – where the financial grass is greener.
The more health care entrepreneurs leave Illinois communities, the more of a void is left for Illinois patients to not have access to top notch medical care and viable health care choices.
Denise and her staff work with a local network of osteopaths, chiropractors and pain management doctors to provide a more holistic approach for their patients’ needs.
“All this has an impact not only on our business and our employees, it has an impact on the quality of health care and ultimately the quality of life we’re able to offer in Illinois,” Denise said.
There’s really not anything more important than those things for Denise Smith, and why she’s joined the fight to stop another tax hike in Illinois.
“We need more choices in Illinois, not less,” she said. “The progressive income tax will add to the pressure away from those important health care alternatives.”
Everyday Illinoisans are sharing their story and explaining what the real-life consequences would be in their personal and professional lives if the progressive tax is passed this November.
We can all relate to these stories from Illinoisans who are frightened that their lives, businesses, and state will be impacted by another tax hike from our Springfield politicians. We encourage you to share your story here on why you will be voting no on the progressive tax!