Picture of someone on a treadmill

An exciting new concept in fitness arrives in the Bronx this spring when the 50,000-square foot SBH Health and Wellness Center opens. The new fitness center is the product of a partnership forged between the SBH Health System and Healthplex Associates, a Jacksonville, Florida-area organization that has been promoting healthy lifestyles through hospital-based fitness programs for more than 20 years.

In addition to offering affordable and convenient workout facilities to hospital staff and community residents, the fitness center will provide physician prescribed and post-rehabilitation resources to patients. The need for such centers like this has never been more critical to the health of Americans, particularly in communities like those that surround the hospital and whose residents suffer from high incidences of such chronic conditions as diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and have little access to lifestyle modification programs. This is why the county perennially finishes in 62nd and last place in terms of health outcomes in New York State.

“Years ago, when I started to create fitness centers as part of the continuum of care, a primary care provider came up to me at one of our facilities and said, ‘You’ve changed the way I practice medicine,’” says Steve Robbins, the president and founder of Healthplex Associates, which will manage the new center. “‘He told me he sees 32 patients a day, and he started to count how many patients go to our center because of medical conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, prediabetes. It was 28. He said he began to realize how this all fits and works together.”

Robbins says that in his present position, and as a former hospital CEO, he’s witnessed first-hand the shift in the way physicians look at their responsibility towards the patient. “Physicians today are trained to move beyond treating the immediate condition or disease by caring for the whole patient, by examining the root cause,” he says. “They look at what they can do to make the patient’s life better, and what responsibility they have with lifestyle modification.”

This is the vision Robbins and his team have created at their fitness centers around the country – working with local hospitals and health care centers in places like Salinas, California, farm country with a high percentage of migrant workers who exhibit a plethora of health issues; Bay City, Texas, a gritty oil town on the Gulf of Mexico; and Pascagoula, Mississippi, home to communities where large Navy shipyards dominate and the local population faces a multitude of health problems.

Robbins’ philosophy is echoed in Healthplex Associates’ most recent newsletter: “The role of hospitals and health systems in our communities has been changing over the last several decades. U.S. health system leaders have realized that merely responding to disease and injury after they occur is treating the symptoms without dealing with the cause. Wellness centers are part of this evolution, with their role of promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting recovery through extending rehabilitation.”

In contrast to fitness centers where members are told “just go on a treadmill and work out,” says Robbins, the new SBH center will work closely with SBH clinical staff to set up programs for patients when it comes to exercise, diet, stress management, etc. Staff at the center will all have college degrees in Exercise Physiology or Kinesiology, and will work closely with members’ physicians in developing individualized programs. An “integration specialist” will act as the clinical liaison.

“The center will act as a ‘catcher’s mitt,’ as a backstop, following, in some cases, the patient’s cardio or ortho or neuro rehab,” says Robbins. “For the patient who has had a laminectomy, for example, and has completed 12 sessions of rehab, the insurance companies say ‘you’re cured.’ But that’s not the reality.”

Adds Robbins, “We’re on the retail side of medicine, and we see the doctor as our customer. For Mrs. Jones, who just had a laminectomy, the orthopedic surgeon will tell us ‘she can’t lift more than this weight, there are certain exercises I don’t want her to do, and you need to work on this set of muscles.’”

Healthplex has long been on the cutting edge, he says, in working with healthcare systems and universities to offer care for patients with motion disorders, diabetes, arthritis and neuromuscular disorders, as well as in areas like maternal health. It took years, he says, for his organization to be successful in bridging people from “an acute care mentality to a wellness preventive mentality.”


Kellie Morten is the clinical integration coordinator at Healthplex’s Montage Wellness Centers in Marina (near Monterey) and Salinas, California, where Healthplex partners with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. The center works closely with the hospital’s physicians and physical therapists. Morten holds a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and is working towards an MBA in Healthcare Administration. “We don’t talk to members about the equipment,” she says. “We talk about what we can do for their health. Our members love coming to the center and working out next to their doctors.”

The first center in Marina, which opened eight years ago, has about 3,100 members and the satellite in Salinas has more than 1400. It markets itself to the community as more than a gym, but rather a safe place without loud music, that’s not intimidating and has certified, well-trained staff that’s there to make a difference in their health.

All new members get a 75-minute health risk orientation, with their goals and medical histories discussed and written down. “We use actual exercise prescription pads and write an exercise prescription for each new member,” Morten says. “It’s not a case of one size fits all. And we give the doctor regular updates.”

According to Robbins, his centers are the outcome of a complex, paradigm shift, a long-term response to an ingrained problem.

“We have a good feeling for what docs want. When it comes to diabetes, for example, the CDC has said if you can get patients to lose five percent of body weight, you can lower the risk of them getting diabetes by 50 percent,” he says. “It’s about broadening the definition of what health is and what a health system can do for a community by changing the way care is given and affecting overall population health.”

The fitness center will be part of a transformative health and wellness center that will also include a women’s imaging center, a children’s center, an urgent care center, a teaching kitchen, and a rooftop farm. For more information on the SBH Health and Wellness Center, visit sbhwellnesscenter.org.