According to Diane Kelton, the president of Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center, the key to success involves building a strong community.
In March 1999, Diane Kelton remembers picking out carpet for what would be her office — an office that hadn’t been built yet, and that she didn’t even have funding for. “I remember thinking, wow, this is kind of backwards,” she recalled.
But she did pick out carpet. She had to, as Milestone Fitness Center — which Kelton worked for — had entered into a 50-50 partnership with Baptist Health, a healthcare system operating out of Kentucky and Southern Indiana, to open up a 57,000-square-foot fitness facility in Louisville. Once opened, the new club would be called Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center, and would represent the joining of two organizations with the same goal — to better the health of the local community.
Through a private investment that secured Milestone Fitness Center’s half of the partnership, Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center broke ground in the fall of 1999. For more than 30 years it has served as a cornerstone for health, fitness and wellness in Louisville, featuring award-winning facilities, programs and staff, and serving members of all ages and fitness levels.
Today, the office Kelton picked out carpeting for 17 years ago overlooks the lobby. Through her window she watches the Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center community go about their day as they participate in personal training, take a swim class or do Zumba. Kelton became president of this community in 2003, and has worked in the gym in some capacity since 1990. As a result she’s seen it all — from the partnership with the hospital, to the club’s expansion to 70,000 square feet in 2004.
Through all the changes, Kelton said one thing has always remained the same: The club’s culture. “Staff visit members in the hospital or do visitations when one of our members has passed away, so to really create that caring atmosphere for people is fulfilling,” said Kelton. “Every job has its own set of stresses, but what makes it worth it here is you get to see your clients and members daily, so you really get to see how the club changes their life.”
According to Kelton, Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center excels at changing members’ lives through its tight-knit community, in addition to two other key areas: weight loss and fitness.
Nine years ago, Chuck Bent decided to go through Healthy Solutions, a supervised weight loss program of Health Management Resources (HMR) offered at Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center. In his first year he lost 80 pounds, and the next year he lost 20, resulting in a total of 100 pounds lost overall.
Today, Bent is the director of the HMR program at Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center, and uses his experience as a participant to connect with those going through the program now.
“This is my ministry,” said Bent. “I’m giving back by helping people get healthy through good nutrition and exercise. We’re giving them their life back. It’s very humbling to be in this position.”
Many clubs strive to help members lose weight and excel in assisting them with fulfilling the fitness component of that goal, but oftentimes fail when it comes to the nutritional aspect. HMR’s program is ranked No. 1 by US News for “Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets,” by offering clients clinically-proven plans that combine a wide variety of different diet techniques.
There are two phases to the program. In the first phase, participants eat HMR’s brand of whole foods, all of which are low-calorie and nutritionally-sound. In addition clients attend weekly meetings, where they learn basic weight management skills. According to Bent, the average weight lost during this phase of the program is 38 pounds.
In phase two, participants are no longer required to eat HMR’s food, and instead use the weight management skills they learned during phase one, and build upon them. Participants keep a food and exercise journal, and get motivation from seeing the success stories of others further along in the program.
“I do my job because I see the results,” said Bent. “They can feel the enthusiasm and excitement in the room because success is happening. It’s very motivating. That’s why the groups are important.”
The HMR program is open to non-members and members at Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center. According to Kelton, it is one of their most popular programs — at any point throughout the year there are between 225 and 275 clients participating, each of which pay a nominal fee to be in the program, in addition to purchasing the meals required during phase one.
“So many times people talk about wanting to join a gym to lose weight, and the exercise part is great, but really you need the nutrition side as well,” said Kelton. “We’ve really been able to accomplish that with our partnership with the HMR company.”
In addition to helping members with weight loss through diet, Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center has the fitness component down pat as well. For around $80 per month members gain access to a wide variety of strength and cardio equipment, personal training, more than a dozen Group X modalities and an aquatics center featuring a 25-yard lap pool, warm therapy pool and whir
Club-wide, a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose is what makes the fitness programs so successful. According to Maria Bernard, the fitness co-director for Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center, this is even the case with personal trainers, who instead of being competitive with each other, are extremely supportive of each other’s success.
“If one trainer goes on vacation they’ll ask another trainer to cover the client load for them, or several trainers to cover for them, and then it’s reciprocated, which is nice to see,” said Bernard. “We try to keep the environment as positive as possible. When the members see that we have a good relationship with each other as co-workers, it trickles down.”
In October 2016, Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center had its best month to date for personal training, averaging over 650 sessions per week. Part of that success is due in part to the club’s onboarding process. When a member joins, they are placed with a fitness coach who helps them decide what programs to participate in to help them reach their goals.
“That fitness coach is truly their go-to person, and they feel like they can tell them anything,” said fitness co-director Lisa Groft.
This means if a member doesn’t like a personal trainer they were paired up with, for example, they can go to the fitness coach to set them up with someone else, versus having to tell that trainer directly. “It keep those lines of communication open so the member doesn’t feel like they have to just quit coming because they’re embarrassed they don’t like the trainer,” Groft continued. “It doesn’t happen a lot, but if they need to get a new trainer, we don’t lose them altogether as a member and as a client.”
On the Group X side of things, Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center excels in variety, offering over 270 fitness classes per week ranging from Zumba and indoor cycling by Keiser to Pilates and yoga.
According to Kelton, this allows the gym to appeal to a wide demographic of people. “I can see someone walk by my office with a walker, or see a triathlete come in,” she said. “We’ve been able to blend those populations.”
At the helm of the Group X department is Sue Schonberger, the department’s director, who like Kelton has been with Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center in some capacity since the beginning. Schonberger explained the club’s tight-knit community stems from the success of the Group X department.
“When we first opened we were very small, and we had to make sure we could accommodate enough people to grow,” explained Schonberger. “We didn’t have a huge space for cardio or free weights, so we really focused on our Group X program. We got people in there and it became a very big culture, and each class had its own little personality. The classes seem to be kind of the glue that helps keep everything together.”
In fact, right outside Schonberger’s office door is the lounge area, where members can enjoy coffee, watch the news and work on a puzzle in their spare time. Although the club is thousands of square feet larger than when it first started, she said the community feel is still paramount.
“I’m just really proud of the culture we built here,” said Schonberger. “I decorate my office for every holiday, and every time I take down my decorations the members ask about them. They look forward to that type of thing. Maybe they don’t have people to decorate for them at home. We try to make this as family-like as we can.”
That fact is evident in the long-tenure of not just staff, but members as well — some have been with Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center since its founding. And the longer people stay, the more the place feels like home.
In fact, although Kelton’s office today — the one she picked out carpet for 17 years ago — is lined with photos from her travels to other countries, no place quite gives her the feeling that Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center does. “It’s a great culture,” she said.