ATI buys North River Physical Therapy in Chattanooga

photo North River Physical Therapy co-founder Gary Carlson works with a patient at one of the company's eight local clinics.

AT A GLANCENorth River Physical Therapy• Founded: 1991• Sold: In 2013 to ATI Physical Therapy• Employees: 33• Locations: Three in Chattanooga, Ooltewah, Hixson, Ringgold, Soddy-Daisy, Red BankSource: North River Physical Therapy

An Illinois-based rehabilitation company that owns 262 clinics in 10 states has purchased a local eight-clinic practice.

North River Physical Therapy, which has been independently owned and operated in the Chattanooga region since 1991, has been acquired by ATI Physical Therapy, which employs about 3,000 people in the Eastern United States.

Both companies declined to release the price of the sale.

Former North River owners Andrew Marini, Chris Maschhoff and Gary Carlson will continue to operate the local facilities and will serve as regional directors for ATI.

"Andy, Chris and Gary aren't going anywhere," said Jason Hafner, senior vice president at ATI. "They're still here doing the same thing they were doing prior to the acquisition. They're steering the ship down here. I'm not steering the ship."

North River's eight regional clinics will soon transition to the ATI name, and the company's 33 employees are joining ATI. Marini said the changing health care market prompted the sale. The company faced rising insurance costs for employees as well as decreasing reimbursements from patients.

"The health care market has changed significantly," Marini said. "It's very hard for a small,

locally-owned physical therapist business to do it. This move takes a lot of the headaches of running a company off me and the other owners."

The practice is ATI's first foray into Tennessee and Georgia. The purchase is part of ATI's plan to increase the variety agencies and insurers that the company bills.

"It's not our goal to be in every state, but we need to grow and be in different states for a diversification of payers," Hafner said. "We don't want to have all our eggs into one basket."

For Marini, the move gives his practice a layer of big-company protection as the Affordable Care Act rumbles to life, he said.

"[ATI is] a very good company, a very clean company," he said. "It's very to the book and there are no corners cut."

North River sees about 400 patients a week at its current local clinics, and expects to grow significantly now that the practice is a part of ATI, Marini added. He expects to jump from 33 to around 50 employees and open another clinic -- maybe in Cleveland -- in the next six months.

Marini said selling to ATI was clearly the right choice for North River.

"There's always that feeling that you're selling something you've worked really hard for and perhaps you're making a mistake," he said. "Everyone will have that feeling. But when you look at the whole picture, it's a very good decision. It's something that had to be done. There's no question ATI will do a great job in this town."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or