Staff. “Conditions [of getting older]can be treated through physical activity,” says Douglas Ribley, director of the Akron General Hospital Wellness Center, where more than 50 percent of its8,000 members have some high-risk issue, making it paramount to hire staff that can serve the needs of older members.”Our members join us because of our staffs’ expertise in dealing with these conditions,” says Ribley. All Akron General employeesare required to have a minimum of afour-year exercise science degree. East Jefferson has a similar number of older members, and requires itsstaff to have a minimum of a bachelor’sdegree.

The need for specialized staffing is not a luxury; it’s a necessity when dealing with older adults.According to Medical Fitness Association research, “members older than 55 ranked clinically trained and certified staff” as the most important attribute of medical fitness centers.According to Ribley, “staff expertise …programs…and a higher level of customer service” are the way to get and keep older adults as members.

“They come to East Jefferson because of our programs and facilities,” says Mary Ann Dankert, fitness program manager,”but they stay because of our staff.”Dankert says shefeels that there is an exceptional team at East Jefferson, one that is accepting of all people, no matter what race, creed or age. “Their attitudes and work ethic are key to creating a non-intimidating environment, making our members feel comfortable,” she says.

Environment. “You just have to create the right environment,” says Tim Bracey, members services program manager at East Jefferson. “Designing your facility to include the social aspect is critical. We have an aquarium in the lounge area, which creates a great tranquil gathering place for our members who just want to unwind. We also have serenity gardens outside.” All of these have been designed to satisfy the mind, body and spirit of the members.

With this type of environment, “not only will they come, their physicians will send them to you,” says Jan Montague, president of Montague, Eippert and Associates, a consulting company that specializes in older adult wellness. “Physicians feelcomfortable referring a patient to a hospital wellness center. They know the programs are well supervised and are delivered by highly qualified professionals, especially if the center has rehabilitation, physical therapy, cardiac rehabilitation, occupational therapy and other services all under one roof.” However, Montague adds that, “physicians are less likely to refer their patients to a club [if] they feel there is no guarantee that they will have programs available to meet their patients’ special needs. As well, they [may]feel that the equipment and programs may not be age-appropriate.”

Creating the right atmosphere is crucial. In a study by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association(IHRSA), Dr. Christine Brooks cited intimidation as the chief impediment to market penetration. A heightened fear of not fitting in, and images of scantily clad, muscle-bound, barbell-pumping bodybuilders maykeepolder adults out of many commercial fitness facilities.”What the seniors want is a smaller, more intimate environment –25,000 square feet is an optimal size,” says Montague.

Marketing. “The …focus on senior fitness is adding credibility and acceptance to the fitness industry,” says Montague. “You just can’t be everything to everyone.

The hospitals that I’ve seen [that]have [had]the greatest success are the ones [that] focus on the market.”

When looking at seniors, the biggest barrier is time and accessibility, or their perceptions of time and accessibility. The Scripps long-term-care study can be usedas a guide, which advises owners and managers to ensure that their facility is available, appropriate and accessible.