Magazine Fall 2023 Sisters Find Therapeutic Value in Telehealth

Sisters Find Therapeutic Value in Telehealth

Sisters LEAH OTTERLEI PILLSBURY ’00 and ALEXIS OTTERLEI BENNETT ’05 left their native Minnesota to attend Westmont — and then went their separate ways after graduating, pursuing different careers. Eventually, their paths and occupations converged, and they launched a telehealth business in 2021.

Leah majored in psychology and loved every part of her college experience. “I made best friends forever at Westmont and was up for everything,” she says. She played the violin in the Westmont Orchestra, took meals to the Salvation Army and volunteered in the juvenile hall ministry. After graduating, she lived with Westmont friends in Carpinteria before earning a Master of Social Work at USC. She spent two years as a social worker at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and then returned home to advise patients and families in the University of Minnesota’s bone marrow transplant program. Leah and her husband, Ross, who directs global investment at a medical device company, have a son (5) and a daughter (3).

A competitive snowboarder, Alexis transferred from the University of Denver for a warmer climate and a smaller school. “Westmont was like paradise,” she says. A communication studies major, she interned with an event-planning company during the San Francisco Urban Program. She then worked for Target in Minnesota in merchandising and later in human resources. “I loved the company but not the work,” she says. “I always had a passion for people with special needs and knew I needed more education.” She earned a Master of Social Work at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, doing social work at a middle school, and then did early intervention for youngsters with autism. Her husband, Rob, directs investor relations at a publicly traded technology company, and they have two boys (10 and 5) and a girl (8).

Once they both became licensed independent clinical social workers, Leah and Alexis talked about going into business together. When Leah gave birth to her second child in 2019, she decided against returning to her job and told Alexis, “Let’s do this now.”

“We knew it would be fun to work with each other and for ourselves,” Alexis says. “We’re best friends as well as sisters.”

They started looking for office space until the pandemic shut everything down. Instead, they opened Orka Health and Wellness virtually in September 2021 as a telehealth company. A week after they launched, a friend from graduate school asked if they were hiring. They brought her on as an independent contractor and soon added others.


Today, Orka includes eight therapists, two nutritionists, a parent coach and a psychologist who all live in Minnesota. They work on different schedules, take a generalist approach and offer a variety of specialties, such as foster care and adoption, support for people and families with special needs, coping with chronic illness, processing grief and loss and giving perinatal and postpartum support. They also address anxiety, depression, social anxiety, perfectionism and burnout. The registered dietitians encourage healthy eating for families with high-risk children, pregnant and postpartum mothers, toddlers and picky eaters. Orka welcomes new therapists interested in joining them.

“We found that people adjust easily to telehealth,” Alexis says. “We love telehealth and can see people in smaller, rural communities. We intend to keep working from our home offices.”

“Talking online allows more people to get therapy and gives us greater flexibility.”

“Some of the people we see, such as cancer patients, have to be careful about infections, and others are seniors or have mobility issues,” Leah says. “Talking online allows more people to get therapy and gives us greater flexibility.”

Many of Alexis’s clients have special needs and lack easy transportation, such as teenagers living in group homes. “Teens are already comfortable with their mobile devices, and telehealth breaks down a barrier for them,” she says.

The staff at Orka help their clients make progress until they no longer need therapy. “We seek to work ourselves out of a job — and to make sure we’re not working all the time so we can be involved with our family and our church,” Leah says. “Telehealth has helped us find balance in life.”