BN's collaborative health center take continuous approach to better living

By Zach Dietmeier

While Americans continue to become more health conscious, one Bloomington-Normal institution is on the forefront of innovation for helping people incorporate healthy living into their daily routines.

The 105,000-square-foot Center for Integrated Wellness opened in August 2016 across from the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington. The facility came about due to joint programming by Signet Enterprises, Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, McLean County Orthopedics, Method Sports Performance, and Sequoia Wellness. When it opened, the center was one of three such collaborations anywhere in the United States.

“Several years ago, the healthcare system started changing,” center Executive Director Catherine Porter said. “Healthcare became more focused on proactively engaging with people before they become patients. It’s a continuum of care.

The $35 million project produced a health and fitness center with preventative health and wellness programs, a sports performance institute, an imaging center, an orthopedic center, and space for community education and physician offices.

Commercial gyms provide a place for those who are already motivated to participate in fitness activities. However, Porter says only about 15 percent of the general populace is engaged in exercise plans and facilities, leaving a much larger pool that can still benefit from physical activity.

“When we first opened, the myth was very much that we were just rehab and that you needed a physician’s referral to come here,” Porter said. “It was really important for us to say that this is just as much a health club for people who maybe are not on their wellness journey yet, and this is also a place for people managing chronic conditions and are trying to get on a better path.”

Of the top 10 causes of death listed by the National Center for Health, seven can be positively affected by regular exercise and healthy lifestyle. Diet, managing stress, and exercise all combine to form a holistic approach.

Members receive support and guidance from a team of wellness experts. Upon joining, each person is given a wellness assessment and collects a “prescription” for specific exercise programs. A dietitian is kept on staff to offer advice, build eating plans, and conduct cooking demonstrations.

“We have an RN on staff who helps to teach a biofeedback class on recognizing how your heart rate responds to certain stressors so that you can be more mindful of how stress impacts you,” said Porter.

The idea of “exercise as medicine” takes on a unique focus thanks to the inclusion of an independent orthopedic practice and the ability to transition from a rehabilitating patient to full functionality in the same building. The variety of services is one reason the Health and Fitness Center was already voted as The Pantagraph Reader’s Choice #1 Health Club in Bloomington-Normal.

Athletic trainers on staff help in the event of an injury, and the team conducts youth sports performance training as not only a teaching arena for young athletes to improve in healthy ways but also to prevent lasting health ailments due to injury. The center partners with Illinois State University’s Kinesiology and Recreation department to help interns gain valuable real-world experience.

All the members of our fitness team are degreed professionals; they all have a Bachelor’s or Master’s in exercise physiology or exercise science,” Porter said.

With just under 2,000 members entering 15 months of operation, the center has also developed over 40 different partnerships with community organizations.  The center works directly with Normal Township’s Activity and Recreation Center in Normal for seniors programming support and coordinates with Marcfirst and the McLean County Health Department to help improve health and wellness for the developmentally disabled.

ISU Club Hockey, Bloomington Edge indoor football, Normal Cornbelters baseball, Bloomington Central Catholic High School boys’ basketball, and numerous local youth sport athletes and teams have all trained at the facility since its opening.

“Whenever I go speak to physicians or community members, I always hear new ideas for how we can further improve our services for families, individuals, and patients,” “We can concentrate on smaller groups and are able to set up really specialized programs.”

One such program is Rock Steady Boxing, which was created to combat Parkinson’s disease. The center also recently held an open house for multiple sclerosis patients.

According to Porter, another service is development of worksite wellness programs. The City of Bloomington conducts annual health screenings through the center, and a program is in place with the Normal Fire Department and, starting in 2018, COUNTRY Companies.