A healthy sweat

Sunday, March 14, 2004

For some people, physical fitness is a byproduct. They joined a gym to fit into the dress or the suit that hasn't been taken out of the dry-cleaner plastic in 10 years. For the others, the idea is hit the gym to get healthy and stay out of the hospital.

Hospitals in Cape Girardeau are doing their best to make the words "gym" and "hospital" synonymous.

Both Southeast Missouri Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center are constructing facilities that will integrate the medical and fitness aspects of health, bringing doctors and personal trainers together to help both patients and the public get and stay healthy.

Though both facilities will offer physical therapy, occupational therapy and rehabilitation for hospital patients, they will be targeting the general public for membership -- specifically those who would not otherwise join a gym. The hope is that the presence of medical professionals will create a comforting image.

"We want to attract those who would be intimidated at other gyms," said Frankie Erlacker, physical therapist and director of Southeast's outpatient rehabilitation. "People who are obese, need nutritional counseling or have high blood pressure or diabetes will feel safer, more comfortable with people who have both fitness and medical knowledge."

Dana Hukel, account services coordinator with St. Francis' marketing and public relations, said the integration will provide confidence to members.

"With qualified, certified medical staff present, all groups from senior citizens to kids can get the guidance they need," Hukel said.

Doctor directed

The integration concept doesn't stop there. This is much more than just having a doctor on call in the vicinity of a stationary bike. Southeast's HealthPoint Plaza and St. Francis' Health and Wellness Center will have medical staff in the building and on the floor.

The key to this medical/fitness integration is an attempt by both hospitals to assure the public that everything they will encounter in their respective health-club facilities will be doctor approved. That includes everything from the aerobics program to the smoke-free air inside.

At the Health and Wellness Center, St. Francis Medical Center will ensure this by appointing a medical advisory group. This group will consist of regional physicians who will oversee every aspect of operations.

"They'll evaluate the staff, equipment, even the menu at the deli," Hukel said. "The idea is to promote health throughout the facility." And all employees of the Health and Wellness Center will have four-year degrees and approved certification.

At HealthPoint, the medical authority will be a medical director who will have approval over all aspects of personnel and operations. Erlacker said the director will have a degree in both medicine and a fitness-related field, and all members of management will be formally trained and certified.

But the medical supervision will not be relegated to the front offices. Members of each center will work on doctor-approved equipment and have doctor-directed programs available to them.

This doesn't mean members can just pop into a doctor's office for a physical. But both centers will work with physicians to help meet members' needs.

The Health and Wellness Center will attempt to do this by having registered nurses on staff to help with general questions. And all programs put forth by the fitness trainers will have the approval of the advisory board.

At HealthPoint, the doctor-directed method will use Fit Links, an electronic monitoring system that will network a patron's program and progress throughout the facility. Members can use their ID cards on any machine, and the system will automatically know the number of reps, the minimum weight or the time a patient's program requires. Furthermore, a patron can access a report of his or her progress from Fit Links via the Internet and present it to a physician to monitor progress.

Both facilities will take referrals from other physicians and prescribe an appropriate program.

One-stop health shop

Both HealthPoint Plaza and Health and Wellness Center market themselves as more than just fitness centers. The centers look more like department stores for health-minded shoppers.

Both have medical offices and facilities on site.

HealthPoint Plaza, which will occupy the former Albertson's building at Independence and Kingshighway, will have adjoining offices for outpatient rehab services and occupational health. The Health and Wellness Center is being built on the campus of St. Francis Medical Center but will lease office space on the third and fourth floors of the center to physicians and physician groups.

In addition to accessible medical facilities, each center will have standard fitness-center equipment, aquatic facilities, indoor tracks and studios for aerobic instruction and other programs. Both centers also will feature health-oriented eateries. HealthPoint will have a cafe and juice bar. The Health and Wellness Center will have a deli with a menu approved by the advisory board.

HealthPoint is expected to open this summer. The Health and Wellness Center plans to open in October.

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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