Published: Feb 05, 2013 02:55 PM
Modified: Feb 05, 2013 04:45 PM
CARY - The huge building under construction in northwestern Cary looks like a hospital, with its brickwork, curves and archways.
But you wont necessarily come here when youre sick.
The 60,000-square-foot UNC Health Care Wellness Center, scheduled to open this summer, is part of the new frontier of preventative care. Something between a YMCA and a rehabilitation center, the new building hosts multiple pools, a climbing wall, a gym and a host of medical programs near the intersection of OKelly Chapel Road and Green Level Church Road.
Patients dont have
to come here. We want them to come here, said George Wayson , director of UNCs wellness centers, as he toured the shell of the facility.
With memberships at the new Cary facility selling for $68 monthly
, the souped-up gym will help offset the costs of Medicaid, Medicare and emergency-room treatment of underinsured people.
Its no coincidence that regional hospital systems place these medically directed fitness centers in growing areas such as western Cary. Rex Hospital, part of UNC Health Care, runs similar ventures in southwestern Cary, Raleigh, Knightdale, Wakefield and Garner.
WakeMed also has a wellness center at its Raleigh hospital, and it offers rehabilitation and medical programs in some area YMCAs.
In affluent suburban areas, its a pretty common activity, said Gerard Anderson, director of Johns Hopkins Universitys Center for Hospital Finance and Management. I dont see very many in inner-city environments.
In Cary, UNC Health Care hopes initially to draw about 3,000 members from the surrounding residential areas into the wellness centers two-story central hall. Eventually, the place could grow as popular as its sister, the UNC wellness center in Chapel Hills Meadowmont area, which has reached 5,100 members in a decade.
For their monthly dues, members will find everything from healthy-cooking classes to physical therapy, massage and warm-water pool exercise along with 200-plus pieces of exercise equipment and a system that can track and analyze individuals use of equipment.
What distinguishes the center from a typical gym, Wayson said, are the resources and medical professionals available for people dealing with health problems such as diabetes or obesity, or even those recovering from surgery.
The health-care system based membership fees on the costs of running the place and paying nurses, physiologists and other specialists, Wayson said.
Non-members will be invited in to try some classes and programs, but the idea is that theyll become members if they want to keep coming. The center may eventually offer need-based scholarships; since 2005, UNCs Chapel Hill fitness center has given about 100 people free partial access to the facility.
Beyond improving public health, UNC Health Cares hope is that the facility will introduce western Cary residents to the rest of the hospital systems offerings. And with relatively little medical presence in the newest parts of town, the place could be a precursor of more hospital turf wars.
Theres a lot of rooftops and no other facilities like this, Wayson said. To start that, we put the flag in the ground in the name of wellness.
That leaves open the question of what will bring this kind of preventative care to lower-income areas, where poor health often correlates with low wages.
You need a sponsor that can essentially subsidize the care for that population, and most hospitals arent willing to do that, Anderson said.
Most often, he said, that task falls back to charities.