The EDGE: A Harbinger of Preventative Care
How The EDGE in Vermont has played an active role in preventative care in the state over the last 50-plus years.
For the past 30 years, the United Health Foundation has published the America’s Health Ranking Annual Report. It evaluates states on a number of health factors including behaviors, community and environment, policy, clinical care, and outcomes.
The state of Vermont has been ranked the healthiest state in the U.S. for several years, most recently in 2019. It consistently reports lower incidences of infectious disease, high per capita public health funding and lower rates of uninsured, among other factors. In fact, in 2020 the state ranked No. 1 in the behaviors category, with the prevalence of exercise increasing from 22.6% to 28.5% of adults between 2017 and 2019.
Contributing to the state’s positive health outcomes and increased activity is The EDGE, Vermont’s largest health and wellness company with four health clubs and physical therapy clinics, two preventative care clinics, and two accredited preschools.
According to Michael Feitelberg, the CEO of The EDGE, the brand strives to be a harbinger of preventative care — a place where Vermonters can exercise and improve their health, and ultimately strive to prevent or lessen the occurrence of comorbidities such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
“I’ve always felt our industry really has a responsibility,” said Feitelberg. “Our organizations can truly influence the health of the country, because we are very much on the front lines of what true preventative care is. We’re not taking care of people when they’re sick — we’re trying to avoid that from happening in the first place, and who is better equipped, literally, than our industry?”
For evidence of this philosophy in practice at The EDGE, look no further than the brand’s four physical therapy clinics and two preventative care clinics, dubbed appropriately as The EDGE Preventative Care. Each location boasts a team of practitioners including registered dietitians, exercise physiologists, health coaches, care coordinators, physical therapists and exercise instructors.
According to Nicole Williams, the director of The EDGE Preventative Care, the locations provide customized wellness solutions to workplaces across the state of Vermont, forming collaborative partnerships with insurance providers, brokers and employer groups.
“These effective wellness interventions provide significant ROI through lowering employee health risk factors, improving quality of life, work efficiencies and more,” said Williams. “Alongside of our corporate wellness solutions, we also provide our members and community access to nutrition counseling, biometric screening, health coaching and wellness programs.”
The EDGE Preventative Care practice offers clients, members and patients the opportunity to improve their health through comprehensive wellness programs such as the HealthyCARE 90 Day Program, the Next Steps Diabetes Program, and a Food and Mood Program. According to Williams, these wellness programs provide a focus on improving quality of life and health through stress reduction, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle change and mental health strategies.
“We also provide biometric screening and nutrition counseling, which would be a service that many have found beneficial — especially through COVID-19, where many have missed their annual physical at their doctor’s office,” continued Williams. “Through the biometric screening and appointment with a registered dietitian, the patient is able to not only learn they may have elevated risk factors but most importantly gain support on improving those numbers through lifestyle interventions.”
Essentially, The EDGE Preventative Care clinics are outcomes-based, meaning participants can expect specific results by completing a program, whether that’s lowering their blood pressure or better managing diabetes.
According to Feitelberg, these outcome-based programs are key to health clubs gaining credibility with the medical community and becoming a true part of the healthcare continuum.
“These aren’t programs that are running just for the sake of participation,” said Feitelberg. “They have a starting and ending point with substantive biometric testing where you can really see what’s being done — not just how you feel or what your outlook is but real numbers, real key indicators of your health being influenced by the program. That in and of itself is a big motivator for the people who are participating, and it’s certainly a motivator for health insurance companies and employers that are looking for ways to minimize their costs.”
Feitelberg explained discussions surrounding outcomes are an area gyms have struggled with in the past when talking to healthcare providers or insurance companies.
“We’ve got a lot of great ideas, we’ve got a lot of great programs, but what I heard time and time again from physicians or insurance companies is we need to see the data, we need to see the outcomes, to know this isn’t just a program we’re spending money on, but it’s actually an investment that has a return,” said Feitelberg. “And that’s what we’ve been able to demonstrate through the preventative care clinics.”
In addition to making conversations with the medical community easier, outcome-based programs like those provided at The EDGE Preventative Care are also something Williams feels the community has an increasing need for.
“As the health of our population statistically is declining, medical fitness and preventative medicine and care will be a key integration to the future of improving the health of our communities,” said Williams. “Post-pandemic I believe we will have more volume of clients and patients seeking this support in an environment that is not intimidating, evidence-driven and effective at improving health.”
The EDGE’s preventative care approach is also seen in practice at its two preschools, which serve around 250 families in the community. In fact, the preschools are the second-largest revenue driver for the brand, second only to memberships.
According to MJ Sleeper, the executive director of Kids & Fitness at The EDGE, each preschool boasts indoor and outdoor play areas that provide children with opportunities to explore and develop a sense of community. In addition, they extend club programming to the children and families enrolled, including swim lessons, yoga, Zumba, Parisi Speed School, tennis, soccer and creative movement.
“Health and fitness are an integral part of our daily curriculum,” said Sleeper. “Healthy snacks and lunches, gross motor and extracurricular physical fitness, mindful moments and lesson plans — integrated with our daily habits and rhythm — set the stage at a young age for a healthy lifestyle.”
With rates of childhood obesity on the rise, programs that expose kids to exercise and healthy habits are vital. And the younger this exposure happens the better. The EDGE’s schools serve children six weeks old to pre-K.
“Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the rate of childhood obesity at 18.5%, with roughly 13.7 million children and adolescents being affected,” said Sleeper. “Healthy habits that begin at birth are critical. We want to do our part to help the children in our community learn how to make good choices and grow into strong, healthy adults.”
Feitelberg views this approach along the same lines as preventative care — fostering healthy habits and encouraging activity, in the hopes negative health outcomes never happen in the first place.
“It’s kind of like the preventative group — it’s an exploration of different things, hoping that something exciting is going to stick,” said Feitelberg. “Somebody may come into a preventative care group with no interest in exercising, but then they suddenly find a love for Zumba. And it’s the same with kids. They may find a passion for some sort of sport we promote, and that’s a great thing.”
In fact, this vision is something The EDGE often sees come to fruition among its students as they age.
“I take pride in seeing the children who have graduated from Kids & Fitness come back and join our swim team, our tennis team or return to summer camp,” said Sleeper. “Some even join our team and work at the front desk or as coaches. Our mission is to provide a warm and nurturing environment that allows us to develop a trusting and respectful relationship with your family, foster the social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth of each child, and promote wellness and healthy living.”
The EDGE’s preschools and preventative care clinics showcase the brand’s active role over the last 30 years in improving health outcomes within the state of Vermont.
According to Deb Languasco, the COO of The EDGE, the importance of this role was amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the team recognizing they had to tread carefully in both reopening and continuously serving the community as the pandemic progressed.
The EDGE was shut down for three months. During this pause, however, it put time and resources into ensuring a safe environment for members upon return. At one club, for example, three tennis courts were converted into a location for fitness, group exercise, TRIBE Team Training and Parisi Speed School — creating a space that had high ceilings and ideal ventilation.
In addition, The EDGE created its own Contact Tracing Team with certifications from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Through this team, any positive cases would be quickly traced to prevent any transmission at The EDGE or community spread of COVID-19,” said Languasco.
The EDGE has hosted three COVID-19 vaccination clinics onsite and even gave away free months of membership to encourage the community to get vaccinated.
Most recently, Languasco explained The EDGE added a requirement for vaccination for all eligible members, which has been well received by staff and customers.
“We have had many members renew or come off of freeze who had been hesitant to return until this was instated,” said Languasco. “There are so many people who need exercise and community, so we wanted to do everything we could to remove the barriers to allow them to return.”
Those members are returning to what Feitelberg and his team call the “EDGE Family,” a phrase that has come to signify the brand’s team-based culture which extends to employees and customers.
“In March of the pandemic, we started #EDGEFamily, and that has lived on,” said Feitelberg. “It’s now on all the walls in the different facilities, and the cool thing is everybody knows what it means. Whether it’s a staff member or a member, everyone has a heightened sense of the effort our staff exhibited to transition into a safe COVID-19 environment. That camaraderie and #EDGEFamily mentality has really taken hold.”
As Vermont, The EDGE and the rest of the nation continue to reel from the impact of the pandemic, strong communities are more important than ever.
As a result, Feitelberg feels clubs must keep their heads on a swivel and be on the lookout for additional ways to serve the evolving needs of their communities. This especially includes the elusive 80% of people who aren’t members of gyms.
“The people who want to be back are coming back, and we know enough of them in a lot of places are not going to come back,” said Feitelberg. “So, we don’t have the same percent of that 20% we did before — we have less. This puts more emphasis on us finding ways to get the 80% in the club, learning about what we do, as opposed to just continually fishing in the same place. We can do so much more.”