Meet Walker Methodist, a non-profit senior living organization that owns, operates, and manages 10 senior living communities. Each Walker Methodist community offers on-campus programs and resources to both residents and non-residents, including membership to fitness centers specifically designed to meet the needs of older adults. While many amenities are inclusive for residents, some, including the fitness center, are offered for an additional fee. We spoke with Aaron Aslakson, the Director of Fitness Centers at Walker Methodist, and their fitness team about the benefits of an open campus and how the decision to charge non-residents and residents is impacting their mission to enhance the lives of older adults through a culture of care, respect, and service.
Q: Why has Walker Methodist taken the approach to open their campus to non-residents and what has been the impact?
A: Walker Methodist communities have always offered some programs and services, such as fitness classes, wellness education, and social opportunities to seniors in the greater community. Every time we opened our campus, community members would ask if they could join the fitness center. We realized that creating a fee-based membership program for residents and non-residents could provide additional revenue that we could fold back into our fitness programs, offering better equipment, a more personal touch, and additional classes.
We also felt that opening our facilities to non-residents would help us remain competitive by offering services that are not readily found within the community and creating opportunities for seniors to form social connections. The hope is that when non-residents want to move into an Independent or Assisted Living community, they’ll think of Walker Methodist because they’ve already been using our fitness center, salon, restaurants, dental clinic, etc. And, many of their friends are here.
Opening to all seniors in the community and charging a fee for select services is a way to serve residents in a more meaningful way. It allows us to create a vibrant social center while filling the gap for non-residents who are under-served in the greater community.
Q: How important is each community’s Fitness Center to the success of this approach?
A: Many non-residents come in because of the fitness center and then begin taking advantage of the other things we offer them, which is what we want to see. Charging a fee allows us to offer fitness center members a lot of great options. They can work out on their own, sign up for personal training, or join a class or two. Inevitably, for most members, the fitness center becomes a social hub. The community members form friendships with residents, and the residents invite them to other gatherings and events that meet their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs.
It goes back to the idea of looking at health through a multi-dimensional perspective – recognizing that whole-person health is about meeting physical, emotional, social, intellectual, environmental, and spiritual needs and desires.
“The HUR Smart Technology is great. There’s no guessing about what to do on each machine. When your exercise is complete, the computer records and updates your progress. Love it!”
~Marilyn W, Member of Walker Methodist Fitness Center
Q: Does charging a membership fee for the Fitness Center impact participation?
A: Yes – for the better. We’ve experienced charging for membership increases participation because it deepens member commitment to showing up. For example, if a member invests in personal training, they are highly unlikely to miss a session without rescheduling it. It’s an investment, and like all of us, they want to get what they are paying for. Scheduled training sessions and classes also increase participation. We have members tell us that they only want personal training sessions for a month or two. But, at some point along the way they realize that the scheduled commitment coupled with the financial investment is good for them and choose to continue.
The membership fee also allows us to create a higher quality program with better equipment, more classes, and staff committed to providing a personal touch that’s important to members. Our theory is that if you offer a product of value – great equipment, staff, and programming – it’s possible to charge. When we started charging for membership, we had one location and about 40 members. Today we are up to 5 locations and around 400 members.
We offer SilverSneakers and Silver&Fit, so many members can offset the cost of membership through their health insurance. Walker Methodist doesn’t make money by charging – but it does offset about 62% of the fitness center costs. This is huge! There’s no way we would be able to offer such a high-quality program without charging a fee.
“The HUR machines are great! Operating with air allows for an even stretch and no jolts to my joints and body. With free weights, I had to be careful not to injure myself. But, on the HUR machines, I feel comfortable and safe. The variety of machines work several different muscles, forming a complete workout. They help me have a happier and healthier life”
~ Eileen H., Member of Walker Methodist Fitness Center
Q: How has the HUR equipment played a role in the success of your fitness program?
A: We do very little marketing, choosing instead to rely heavily on word of mouth, and HUR equipment is a big part of that. We are not a big box fitness solution. Our fitness centers are small, quiet, boutique-style facilities structured from a commitment to providing a personal touch. When you walk into one of our fitness centers, you will not hear loud music and noisy machines clanking around. Rather, you’ll experience a calm, non-threatening environment with the personalized attention you need to be successful.
HUR Smart technology is a tremendous resource for us. It not only allows our wellness staff to create personalized training plans for every member, but it also helps members relax because it is so easy to use. Every year we do fitness center satisfaction surveys and the results show a satisfaction rate between 94-100%. We ask them, “Do you recommend the fitness center to others?” And, almost everyone says, “Yes!”