Hospitals Find Niche in Physical Fitness

Article excerpt

By Sarah Nordgren Associated Press CHICAGO _ To help improve their fiscal condition many hospitals have been turning to physical fitness centers.

About 150 hospital-affiliated centers have opened their doors in the last decade and the numbers continue to grow, according to the Association of Hospital Health and Fitness Centers.

"There's a growing awareness that hospitals can provide fitness services ... to a large general public that will pay for it _ and pay well," said John Greene, acting executive director of the Evanston, based association.

Hospital clubs usually charge a one-time initiation fee, plus monthly dues ranging from about $35 to $70.

And forget the image of middle-aged cardiac rehab patients walking slowly on treadmills in drab hospital rooms.

Hospital health clubs feature the latest gadgets in fitness technology, from simulated rock-climbing walls to underwater cameras that analyze swim strokes.

The Tom Landry Sports Medicine and Research Center in Dallas, for example, is a 110,000-square-foot facility attached to a medical office building. Surrounding the center, which is part of the Baylor Health Care System, is a seven- acre park with a lagoon and two outdoor running tracks.

The St. Lawrence Hospital's Michigan Athletic Club in East Lansing, Mich., has tennis and squash courts, two pools and a cardiovascular room at its new 165,000-square foot facility.

Experts say the reason for the boom in these facilities is simple:

They improve the health of the general public as well as the hospital's bottom line. That's important in an industry in which 63 hosptials closed down in 1990 and 80 hospitals the previous year, according to American Hospital Association figures.

A survey of hospital-affiliated fitness centers by the Association of Hospital Health and Fitness Centers indicates that 90 percent of the centers with more than 20,000 square feet have a positive cash flow. …