Penrose plan to close gym sparks protest

Filed under: Business of Aging,Daily News,Health Care |

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services is closing their health learning center gym, which provides exercise services to senior citizens who are undergoing rehabilitation after heart attacks or strokes or who suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes.

It’s the only medically supervised gym of its kind in the state.  And the 450 clients are so upset about the decision – they’re fighting to keep it open. The clients, most of them over the age of 65,  have planned a protest at noon Thursday at Nancy Lewis Park.

“We have someone exercising there who is 95,” said Bill Fox, who regularly attends the gym. “We have people on oxygen. And we pay our way. It’s not like we can go to 24 Hour Fitness, this gym had medical staff available.”

Penrose spokesman Chris Valentine said the hospital will close the gym, located at 1644 Medical Center Point, by June 21, when its lease runs out. Three Penrose staff members are affected by closing, but Valentine says Penrose is working to find them jobs in the organization.

“Knowing that the lease would run out in June, Penrose-St. Francis spent a lot of time looking at alternate locations and program options,” said a press release from the hospital. “Ultimately, the decision was made to close the gym.”

Penrose isn’t opening another program in the space, Valentine said. It’s lease it up and the hospital is not renewing it.

But the hospital hasn’t left the seniors on their own. Penrose and SilverSneakers are hosting an on-site gym registration with the other SilverSneakers partner gyms in the community.

And some of the programs offered at the Health Learning Center are being transferred. Tai Chi classes and bariatric support services are being relocated to Penrose Hospital on Nevada Avenue.

Colorado Sports and Spine Centers is a rehabilitation program that shares space with the gym. They will be moving their program from the Health Learning Center gym to a new location, just across the street at 3030 N. Circle Dr., Suite 217.

In November, CEO Margaret Sabin told the Business Journal that Penrose was committed to its health and wellness program. She talked about the gym and its benefits to the elderly.

People who go to the gym can get their heart rate checked before, during and after exercise. Their blood pressure and hydration levels also are monitored, she said.

“Even folks in their 90s can benefit,” she said. “There’s a social aspect to brain health as well as a fitness one that’s very important as we age.”

Fox says he recognizes the benefits – and doesn’t think the closure can be related to financial problems.

“There are two types of payers there,” he said. “Some people have insurance pay a part, but some people pay the $45 themselves. Where are they going to find something that is inexpensive but still has medical staff? I figured it out, and they make about $215,000 a year.”

The group values the exercise classes, Fox says, and doesn’t want to give them up.

“You know how it is when you get old folks riled up,” Fox says. “They fight back.”