The Claremont Club's Wellness Programs Sprang from Helping People with Spinal Cord Injuries

The Claremont Club, Project Walk
Photo courtesy The Claremont Club., The Claremont Club is home to a Project Walk franchise location. Project Walk helps increase mobility for people who are paralyzed due to spinal cord injuries, strokes, Parkinson's, traumatic brain injuries and other causes. Mike Alpert (right) is CEO of The Claremont Club.

The Claremont Club in Claremont, California, is one of six facilities featured in a downloadable wellness report put out in December 2017 by Club Industry and sponsored by Genavix, MedPro Wellness and H2 Wellness. The report, which shares examples from six health clubs that offer wellness programming, is meant to inspire other health club operators with ideas for implementing similar types of programs in their facilities. 

This article is a shortened version of what appears in the report for the Claremont Club. To view the full story and the stories detailing the wellness programs at the other five facilities, click here

Q: What is your company doing related to wellness?

A: Ten years ago, The Claremont Club embarked upon a journey to rehabilitate a young man living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). Our goal was to help him with his functionality, to see a reduction in secondary complications caused by his injury and to improve his quality of life using activity-based therapy. We launched this undertaking by converting a racquetball court and bringing in specific equipment to work with spinal cord-injured clients. Over the next several years, we found ourselves working with 17 full-time SCI clients, and we could not physically take anymore. In February 2013, we opened the first Project Walk franchise in the world in a 3,000 square-foot area of the club that was previously leased out to a local hospital that was using it for a physical therapy clinic. Within the first year and a half, we expanded the studio by 2,100 square feet, giving us a total of 5,100 square feet. In June of this year, we expanded it by another 1,700 square feet for a total of 6,800 square feet. We are currently working with 90 full-time clients, of which 61 are spinal cord injuries and 29 have other forms of paralysis including those caused by strokes, Parkinson’s, ALS, PLS, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury. Soon we will begin a trial program on early stage Alzheimer’s disease. All clients are afforded complimentary club membership for their family and are offered free childcare if needed. Children are given all 13 weeks of summer camp for free along with field trips and lunches.

We know that depression is often synonymous with spinal cord injuries. Loss of functionality and loss of purpose can lead to severe despondency. Many people feel like they have been “taken out of the game.” We work to restore this sense of purpose by offering the right environment and a facility that allows them free access all week long. We have also created jobs for several of our SCI clients.

At The Claremont Club, we also recognize the societal obligation to tend to those enduring the unspeakable hardships of cancer. In 2005, we started the Living Well after Cancer program in partnership with Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center’s Robert & Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center. The main focus has been women who are affected by breast cancer, but we have also had several women with cervical and uterine cancer and one who has stage 4 metastatic cancer. We have also put six small men’s groups through the program. The program meets twice per week for 13 weeks and consists of a support group, cardio and strength conditioning, yoga, Pilates, oncology massage, nutrition counseling and cooking classes. The participants are given complimentary club membership for their family and free childcare if needed. We hold an annual fundraiser to cover the costs of the program. As of today, we have helped over 800 women and men regain their strength, flexibility, confidence and self-esteem.

Due to the success we have had with the Living Well after Cancer program, we decided to begin a one-year program for children and young adults suffering with cancer. The program consists of fun activities for the younger children and cardio and weight bearing exercises for the young adults. Children are encouraged to bring a friend for the entire year, including all 13 weeks of summer camp and weekly field trips. They participate in all social activities and are given a complimentary club membership for their family. Parents take part in a program that we have designed for them as well.

We also offer a program for diabetics using Stanford University’s guidelines and protocol.

And we have recently implemented a program for bone density and bone strength using Bio Density and Power Plate.

We are changing lives beyond merely physical stature and physical recovery. We are restructuring minds, philosophies, mental outlooks and emotional progression.

Q: When did you begin offering wellness programming?

A: We began offering our Wellness programs in 2005.

Q: Are you involved in any partnerships related to wellness, and if so, why are those partnerships important?

A: We have very strong partnerships with Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, City of Hope, UCLA, the University of La Verne, Cal Poly Pomona, Dr. Robert Sallis, Dr. Dave Patterson,  Dr. Joseph Rosenthal, Dr. Somoa and Dr. Tom Easter.

Q: What challenges have you faced in offering wellness, and how did you overcome those?

A: It takes time and patience to build meaningful relationships with key medical people and hospital CEOs. You must gain their trust and support in order to give your programs credibility and longevity. You must remember that their reputations are at stake. They need to know that your people who will be working with their patients are highly trained and accredited and that you are in it for the right reasons. If they feel that you are looking to them for referrals to build your dues line, you will lose. To begin with, we defined the programs we were committed to have. With our cancer programs, the challenges were really centered around costs: costs to pay our specialists, registered dietician, group exercise instructors and administration personnel. We raise funds annually to cover these costs and make sure that all monies collected go directly to Pomona Valley Hospital. They disburse the money bi-weekly directly to our personnel.

With Project Walk, the challenges were different. We needed to convert a racquetball court, which cost around $160,000. We also had to get unique training for our specialists and aides (training on how to work with people who had no feeling below their level of injury), and we needed specific equipment to work with this population. We were fortunate enough to be able to build a strong relationship with the Be Perfect Foundation (a not-for-profit, grass roots organization). The relationship allows us to pay for the build-outs, and they procure and donate the equipment. We also fund raise with them throughout the year.

The final challenge with this population is that so many of them are unable to work and have lost their homes, cars, trucks, etc. They are in many cases financially depleted. It is necessary to help them learn how to fund raise, and it is also important for us to build money into our budget to help where we are able to.

Q: What was the cost of implementation of your wellness program?

A: The Living Well after Cancer program costs us about $20,000 per year, and it is supported by local donations from our fund raising. The Pediatric & Young Adult Cancer program has a budget of $30,000, which we raise through fund raisers. With Project Walk, clients are supported for the first 90 days on a case-by-case basis, and then they are required to pay for their sessions. Again, we help out where we can and on a needs basis and so does the Be Perfect Foundation. Our diabetes program is a fee-based program that is paid for monthly by the client.

Q: What are the space requirements of your wellness programs?

A: The cancer programs and diabetes program are incorporated within the main areas of the club, which include the cardio room, weight room, cycling studio, group exercise studio, yoga studio, massage rooms and Stone Clubhouse.

Project Walk was in a 5,100-square-foot studio that we added 1,708 square feet to this summer.

Q: What are the back-office and IT requirements of your wellness programs?

A: Project Walk and our diabetes program are treated like any other fee-based program at the club with the exception that with Project Walk we bill the Be Perfect Foundation monthly for the sessions completed, and they pay us. With the Living Well after Cancer program (which is free to the client), our wellness director sends an invoice to Pomona Valley Hospital bi-weekly, and they pay the staff directly. The Pediatric & Young Adult Cancer program is also a free program, so we pay our staff like we do any other department.

Data is collected on a daily basis in Project Walk. It is collected quarterly in our Pediatric & Young Adult Cancer program, and at the beginning and end of our Living Well after Cancer program. The goal is to see an improvement in quality of life: functionality, reduction of secondary complications, improvement in depression, improvement in strength and improvement in self-esteem.

Q: What do your wellness program marketing efforts consist of?

A: We have each of our wellness programs described on our website under community and post them on social media. Most of the clients are referred to us by physicians.   

Q: What are the goals of your wellness program and have you met those goals?

A: Our goals are the following:

  • improvement in the person’s quality of life
  • improved mental wellness
  • improvements in functionality, flexibility, endurance, and self-esteem
  • reduction in secondary complications and hospital visits
  • improvements in stamina
  • emotional and spiritual improvements

We have exceeded our goals by far. Project Walk had a net income of $177,000 in 2016. Our cancer programs are free. We are in the early stages of our diabetes and bone density programs.

Q: What non-revenue results have you seen from your wellness program?

A: What is most impactful is what this has done for our staff and members. In 2015, we saw membership attrition fall from 23.5 percent 15.5 percent. We began tracking this and found out that it was directly connected to our culture and our community programs. People tell us that they feel good about what we are doing for children and adults who struggle with chronic injuries and chronic illness. They feel a sense of shared values, and it makes everyone feel good seeing people with these chronic conditions working out right next to able-bodied people. That 8 percent drop in attrition based on our billable units and average dues and non-dues revenue is equivalent to $1,006,387 over 12 months, and 49 percent of that is dues revenue that falls right to the bottom line. In the same year, our staff attrition was 8.4 percent. It has given everyone meaning and purpose and has changed everyone’s lives.

Q: Do you deal with insurance reimbursement? If so, how do you handle that?

A: There are only a few clients who we see reimbursement from third party. These are either worker’s comp cases or settlements from court cases.

Q: What is your advice for others considering getting into wellness programming?

A: My advice to others is that it is time that we bridge the gap between health care and fitness. We need to bring the experts in each together to begin working together instead of so independently to promote Exercise is Medicine, especially when we know the powerful effect that exercise has on health. The medical community is moving into population health where the emphasis is finally on prevention and wellness. They are finally moving away from sick care and into health care. The timing is perfect for our industry to join together in this effort. I also believe that we have a societal obligation to build and maintain healthy communities.

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