Church Health Center Expands Wellness Facility

By Michael Waddell

Church Health Center Wellness is expanding its medical presence within its 80,000-square-foot wellness and fitness center as part of an increasingly integrated health care philosophy, adding five exam rooms to accommodate demand from its uninsured, working patient population.

Aquatic exercise classes are among the wide range of health-related services offered at Church Health Center Wellness. The center has added five medical exam rooms to meet growing demand.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The wellness center is open to the entire community, while the Church Health Center medical clinic is available only to the working uninsured. Both operate on an affordable sliding cost scale, with the lowest priced Wellness memberships starting at $15 per month and the average clinic visit costing around $25.

“All of the bells and whistles for you to succeed in living a healthier life are contained under this roof,” said Marvin Stockwell, Church Health Center director of communications. “We are especially good at helping people who need lots of interventions, and we take the steps to keep them engaged.”

The wellness center offers everything from personalized exercise plans and cooking classes to group exercise classes, activities for children and teens, aquatic exercise sessions, and even prayer services.

“Everything we do here overall is tied into our Model for Healthy Living,” said Randy Kostiuk, Church Health Center Wellness manager of wellness education and nutrition and one of a team of 10 health educators. “Everything you do to improve your wellness is going to have a positive effect on your medical life.”

Kostiuk estimates membership at the center fluctuates between 1,600 and 2,500, considering members are not under contractual obligation of any kind and simply pay month to month.

The main focus of the center’s kitchen is how to cook healthy meals that are convenient, inexpensive and taste good.

“People in general, and especially in the Mid-South, are misinformed that it costs a lot more to eat healthy than it does to eat unhealthy. That’s simply not true, but there is the planning process, the shopping and the preparation that go into keeping the cost down,” Kostiuk said.

The center’s 230 employees are heavily encouraged to improve their own wellness with incentives that include an extra week of paid vacation or $500 per year.

Church Health Center Wellness just implemented a new curriculum around the Model for Healthy Living for a partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies called “Team Up,” in which the Grizzlies will help mentor seventh graders throughout the city in classes on wellness, stress management, exercise, nutrition and portion control. Church Health Center Wellness is also partnering with Baptist Memorial Hospital on a diabetes education class.

The center opened its new medical exam rooms for patients on Nov. 4 and has remained busy since.

“We plan to add a third family practice provider in December,” said registered nurse Jacinta Powers. “Right now we are really focusing on diabetes and hypertension, two chronic conditions that will not change only with medicine.”

The Church Health Center has provided care for more than 61,000 unique patients in the last 10 years without relying on government funding, and the clinic logged roughly 46,000 patient visits last year.

As part of the continuing integration of health care and wellness, all patient visits now involve a health coach who is embedded into all of the center’s provider teams. Research supports the fact that more involvement with activities at the center result in healthier patients and better patient outcomes.

“Once the patient is referred into one of our Wellness for Life programs, they will have a health coach that will work with them hand in hand to set some specific behavioral goals to help them manage their diabetes, lose the 10 to 15 pounds they need to manage their hypertension, remind them to take their medications, and help them to get started with exercise,” Kostiuk said.

On the exercise side, the center offers a full slate of classes, including aerobics, yoga, Pilates, dance, Zoomba, spin classes, and movement and balance and stress and strength sessions for seniors.

“We are learning to work within the medical system to help people to evaluate the preventions they can do, as well as what they can do to provide ongoing maintenance to complement their medical situations,” said Richard Kelly, Church Health Center Wellness exercise and movement manager. “Looking at the health crisis in our nation, it has so much to do with learning to eat well and move more. You cannot outrun bad eating habits.”

Dr. Scott Morris, a family practice physician and ordained United Methodist minister, founded the Church Health Center in 1987 to provide quality, affordable health care for uninsured working people and their families. The wellness center opened in 1998, and last year logged more than 117,000 member visits.

Church Health Center Wellness operates under a $16 million budget this year, with most of its funding coming from individuals and foundation support as well as from ongoing revenues from its clinic and wellness center.

By spring 2016, the Church Health Center plans to consolidate its 11 separate buildings (including the wellness center) with its move into 120,000 square feet to 140,000 square feet of the Sears Crosstown building.