Presbyterian Homes: Story of a Wellness Center

Presbyterian Homes
Story of a Wellness Center


Since its inception in 1994, the 25,000-square-foot Kimble Fitness and Therapeutic Center at the Presbyterian Homes in Evanston, Illinois, has involved residents at every level. The Kimble Center includes two pools, an exercise room, locker rooms, an exercise classroom, and a community “great room.” A capital campaign chaired by residents raised the $3.5 million for the project’s construction, and early focus groups elicited residents’ input about the design of the facility.

Committees evaluated preferences for locker room design, including the option of special private dressing rooms to allow for comfort in a “gym” environment. Safety issues also were discussed. For example, the resident committees evaluated the kinds of surfaces used in locker rooms and on the pool deck. Almost 11 years after its opening, more residents than ever and at every level of the continuum of care are involved in the fitness center program.

The program has evolved through the years. At the beginning, residents were more interested in a group setting for exercise and educational experiences. We started with a schedule that included standing and seated land classes and warm- and cooler-water pool classes for different groups. We have expanded our schedule to include specialty offerings, such as balance classes, Tai Chi, yoga/stretch, and special classes for men. As residents become more educated about fitness and its impact on their health, they are looking for more individualized programs and personal training.

The fastest growth in our programs has been with the nursing home and assisted living residents. We established a program called “Focus on Fitness” and have found that the residents are enthusiastic about pursuing their own personal fitness goals. Residents are cleared for the program by their physicians and then go through a physical therapy screening. Once the screening is complete, the residents are consulted regarding their preferred workout schedules and transportation is arranged to get them to the fitness center. They are set up in a program by a certified personal trainer, who assists each of them in achieving goals that they set together.

Events and programs are designed with an emphasis on the fellowship component of wellness. The Kimble Center has become a community center where residents from across the continuum of care can interact and learn together in a healthy environment. Independent living residents enjoy connections with former neighbors or bridge partners who have moved to the healthcare center. Residents have the opportunity to leave their usual environment, take a trip across campus, and visit with friends while working out. The center is a freestanding building; it is not in any group’s living area and, therefore, it belongs to everyone.

The staff of the Kimble Center are all trained and qualified professionals with a passion for working with people. Their experience is varied, and they work as a team to motivate, educate, and stimulate the residents who use their services. From the lifeguard who knows when to give a little extra assistance to someone going down the ramp to the personal trainer who stops to hear about someone’s family visit, they are a dedicated and caring group. Staff provide friendship, information, and support for residents in setting and meeting their personal goals.

The program at the Kimble Fitness and Therapeutic Center has grown to the point that we need to expand our exercise equipment room. We would like to add more NuStep machines, another elliptical trainer, and additional stations of strength-training equipment. We would like to renovate our exercise classroom to include an aerobics floor and auxiliary equipment for exercise classes.

As the baby boomers retire, we will be providing facilities and services to residents who are accustomed to exercise, health maintenance, and complementary medicine. Demand for certified fitness professionals who have experience working with older adults will increase. There will be a focus on alternative therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, bodywork, and energy-based healing, such as Reiki and reflexology. There also will be more specialty areas within the fitness profession, with staff specializing in chronic diseases and age groups. There will be more crossover modalities from land to water-in fact, the evolution of water exercise will be a tremendous growth area.

Future residents will want Watsu, a form of water relaxation; Pilates and yoga in the water; and Ai Chi, a water-exercise program for range of motion. More technologically inclined residents will be looking for “virtual” personal trainers to access when away from home, as well as age-appropriate Internet training programs. They will expect to be able to track their exercise programs and their continued progress by computer.

During the first few years of operation, the center was criticized by some residents as being an expensive and unnecessary addition to the community. They were concerned that only a few people would use it-and even more concerned about being seen in exercise clothing and bathing suits! But we’ve come a long way from the girdles and high heels worn to senior exercise classes 15 years ago. Today, residents tell us that they feel better, are stronger, have more energy, feel less stress, and have better range of motion and better endurance.

In continuing this progress and planning for future wellness centers, we recommend that organizations involve current and future residents, as well as staff at all levels, in the planning and design process. They should also consult with architects, engineers, contractors, and designers who are experienced in building wellness centers for seniors. Of particular importance is close cooperation between the activities and rehabilitation therapies departments. Visits to wellness centers at other CCRCs are also encouraged in order to gain a full understanding of today’s senior wellness state of the art.

Muriel Brunger, ADC, NHA, RHP, is the Director of Activities at the Westminster Campus, and Monte Levinson, MD, CMD, is the Vice-President of Medical Affairs, both at Presbyterian Homes, Evanston, Illinois. For further information, contact Muriel Brunger at (847) 866-1633 or visit To send your comments to the authors and editors, e-mail

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