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Northwestern Medicine's plan for $46 million fitness center gains approval

Northwestern Medicine’s plan for $46 million fitness center approved

BOLINGBROOK – Northwestern Medicine’s plan to invest $46.4 million in DeKalb County by building a health and fitness center received unanimous approval Tuesday from the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.

The board’s 7-0 vote to approve a certificate of need for the project cleared the way for work to begin on the two-story, 111,105-square-foot Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Health and Fitness Center. It is set for construction at 626 E. Bethany Road on the hospital system’s campus. The center is expected to be completed by March 31, 2019.

To obtain the permit, Northwestern officials had to justify that the proposed fitness center was needed in the community and that it was financially and economically feasible.

Kevin Poorten, president of Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee and Valley West hospitals, said the center would differ from a traditional gym, offering services from health professionals and educational resources along with fitness facilities.

“We, like many other hospitals, are shifting [our] focus to engage consumers before they are acutely ill, utilizing preventative methods that can be helpful in providing care before the patient is admitted to the hospital or the emergency room,” Poorten said.

Hospital officials addressed concerns that arose during public hearings about the proposal, including that the center could detract membership from the neighboring Kishwaukee Family YMCA at 2500 W. Bethany Road. Two people, local activist Barry Schrader and former DeKalb Mayor Bessie Chronopoulos, told the board of their concerns of how the project would affect the Y during the public comment period at the start of the board’s meeting.

However, Bridget Orth, director of regulatory planning at Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, said options to collaborate with the Y were explored from 2011 to 2013. Options discussed included moving some or all of the Y’s fitness services into the proposed center and linking the two facilities with a bridge.

However, the YMCA board of directors determined that keeping the Y’s operations on one campus would be in its best interest, she said.

“The proposed project would be the only medically affiliated fitness center in the area,” Orth said. “There may be a small overlap of services with the Y, but like the YMCA, we believe that a healthier community is a stronger community, which is why they did not oppose our project.” 

A letter from Kishwaukee Family YMCA CEO Mark Spiegelhoff was presented to board members Tuesday as well.

In the letter, Spiegelhoff wrote that the health and fitness center could offer more partnership opportunities between the health system and the YMCA.

“The YMCA and Northwestern Medicine KishHealth have a longstanding and solid relationship,” Spiegelhoff wrote, “and we fully expect that we will continue to partner together to best serve the community after the center is completed.”

Michael Kulisz Jr., chief medical officer of Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee and Valley West hospitals, also spoke about the importance of preventative health care, adding that many chronic health conditions can be prevented through weight management.

“As a physician, I can attest to the fact that medications and periodic appointments are only a small fraction of the total health picture for patients,” Kulisz said. “The choices patients make in what they eat, how active they are, and their access to support systems and educational resources for their condition, all impact their health quality of life and overall prognosis.”

Wellness programs offered through the center will be provided for free, many including access to the fitness center, according to the proposal.

Additionally, doctor-prescribed fitness programs will be covered by Northwestern Memorial HealthCare’s charity care policy.

“It’s very important to distinguish that the programs and services that will be offered through the center are going to be made available to the entire public regardless of their ability to pay,” Poorten said.

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