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The Medical Fitness Journey

medical fitness

The Atlantic Club, certified as a medical fitness facility by the Medical Fitness Association (MFA), is among the best in the industry at executing medical fitness programs. It stands out due to its total commitment to achieving the best results for medical fitness clients at its two locations in New Jersey.

“Medical fitness requires a different approach than what’s needed in traditional commercial clubs,” said Kevin McHugh, the chief operating officer at The Atlantic Club. “It’s 100 percent outcome-based — monitoring, tracking and evaluating by a team of highly credentialed fitness professionals, as well as the licensed medical professionals we have on board.”

In the past couple of years, The Atlantic Club has gone through a rigorous inspection process to get its MFA certification. It all began, however, after several of the club’s executives gained a greater understanding of the direction of the industry several years ago.

Exercise and Nutrition as Medicine

“The decision was made by [CEO] Patricia Laus about six years ago, after hearing Dr. Ed Phillips from the Harvard School of Lifestyle Management when he spoke at the IHRSA conference,” recalled McHugh.

At this conference, the idea of partnering the medical and fitness communities was planted in Laus. “Pat left the conference committed to fully jump into this non-traditional area of a commercial fitness business,” explained McHugh.

That commitment stemmed not only from a desire to stay ahead of the industry curve, but also a passion for delivering the best wellness opportunities inside the walls of The Atlantic Club.

“Pat and all of us understood medical fitness was the future for us,” said McHugh. “We knew it was a differentiator, and it would be a great benefit to all our members and the community.”

According to Kathy Guibord, the senior director at The Atlantic Club, the benefits could be built on a single principle: exercise is medicine. “We’ve always known exercise is medicine,” she said. “It just has never been as prevalent as it is right now, with the change in healthcare and more of the focus on exercise as prevention.”

Light resistance training for a recovering patient at The Atlantic Club.

With this basic understanding, The Atlantic Club has implemented several existing programs and crafted several of its own in order to serve special populations. Examples include Exercising with Cancer, a 60-day, small group exercise program for patients with cancer; and HealthyCARE, a 13-week program that offers education from a registered dietitian for the first hour and exercise in the second.

As these offerings have evolved, so has The Atlantic Club’s approach to medical fitness. “We realize now that nutrition and exercise are really the magic pill — it’s not just exercise as medicine, it’s exercise and nutrition as medicine,” said McHugh.

But no matter how inventive the programming or engaging the staff, the most important piece of the puzzle for The Atlantic Club was getting its certification from the MFA.

Getting Certified

“The MFA certification is an assessment and evaluation — 209 points of excellence — that looks at every single aspect of your business,” said McHugh. “It is so comprehensive and makes sure everything you do is safe for the member, safe for the patient, and safe for a doctor to refer people to see you.”

Several months after committing to the path of medical fitness, The Atlantic Club got ready to be certified. After their first round of inspections, its facilities passed 208 out of 209 points of inspection.

“We thought we were really good before we did our first certification inspection, and we really saw a lot of gaps in the inspections,” said McHugh. “Not that there were any bad gaps.”

As a matter of fact, 208 out of 209 points is a good score. But McHugh and his team weren’t settling for just good. “We really wanted to take ourselves to the next level in safety, programs, outcomes and results,” he said. “It really forced us to take a look at every single thing we did in the facility and improve it.”

After the initial evaluation, The Atlantic Club tightened up its operation in preparation for the next wave of inspections. The second time, they did not disappoint. “Three years later, when we were re-evaluated, we got our 209 points,” said McHugh. “We’re now 100 percent certified.”

This certification placed The Atlantic Club on the MFA’s list of certified medical fitness facilities, which McHugh explained has made medical institutions comfortable referring patients to their clubs.

Member Comfort

Helping patients should be the top priority for running medical fitness programs. In order to make patients more comfortable, The Atlantic Club sends them straight to their respective program’s coach upon being referred.

“We have medical patients go right to a prep coach instead of the sales team,” said Guibord. “Then, down the road, as they’re working in the club and get more familiar with it, they’re more comfortable talking to our people — whether it’s trainers or salespeople on our team.”

While the whole staff shares a passion for helping its members, initial buy-in from top-level executives at The Atlantic Club was crucial. “It starts at the top,” said McHugh. “Having top-down commitment, starting with the executive team, has helped everyone from the executive team to the part-time lifeguards feel like a real part of the process.”

In addition to staff-wide commitment, The Atlantic Club has taken great care to hire the right trainers for its medical fitness programs. This is especially the case for its P.R.E.P. program, a physician-referred exercise program that tailors small group workouts based on the patient’s health history, goals and baseline measurements.

“We have a full-time trainer in both facilities,” said Guibord. “It’s a person chosen on their credentials and their personality. This job certainly takes an empathetic trainer, one that’s familiar with special populations. Choosing the right person to do this type of program is key.”

In fact, Guibord believes having the right trainer in place gives them their best chance to achieve positive results. “It really is about getting the people with the right credentials in place who are passionate about working with special populations,” she said.

Changing Lives

Through medical fitness programs like P.R.E.P., Exercising with Cancer, and HealthyCARE, The Atlantic Club has already helped countless patients. “We’re trying to take people who are at high risk to being lower risk, and eventually to no risk,” said McHugh.

This conversation centers on the principle of exercise and nutrition as medicine. Using it to guide programming, especially for at-risk special populations, has been a game-changer at The Atlantic Club.

This is no guarantee, however, that medical fitness is a good fit for every club.

“Don’t move toward it unless you’re committed to doing it,” said McHugh. “Because it is an investment — in money, time and focus. Medical fitness is different than operating a traditional commercial club.”

But if it is the right fit, Guibord believes there is no more fulfilling work for a fitness facility to pursue. “In the end, it’s one of the most rewarding things for our team members,” she said.

It’s not just a way to expand offerings and generate more revenue. It’s a way to help special populations achieve a better quality of life.

“We see it’s a way to change people’s lives,” said McHugh. “We want to get people moving and eating properly, and living longer and healthier.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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