All is not well with the idea of a wellness center at the city’s new Rock Chalk Park Recreation Center.
Consultants told Lawrence Memorial Hospital leaders on Wednesday that the idea of a hospital-run wellness center at the city’s new recreation center was not well-received by a group of stakeholders.
“Our recommendation is for the hospital to gracefully bow out of the opportunity to participate in this facility,” said Pat O’Toole, a Lawrence-based consultant who was hired by LMH to study the wellness center concept. “It isn’t big enough and it isn’t in the right location.”
Hospital board members did not take any action Wednesday on the wellness center issue, but rather agreed to study the written report by the consulting team comprised of Denver-based Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture and Lawrence-based GreenPlay LLC.
Despite not having a commitment from LMH, city commissioners already have agreed to build the 7,000 square feet of space set aside for a wellness center as part of the 181,000-square-foot recreation center. Mayor Mike Dever said Wednesday that he still wants to work with LMH on the issue.
“As far as I’m concerned, the conversation is ongoing, and I would hope we could figure out a way to work a wellness facet into the recreation center,” Dever said.
The consultants in April and May hosted a series of meetings with hospital administrators, physicians, recreational stakeholders and the general public. The consultants said the input from the group of about 80 people indicated “there was not very strong support of LMH building a wellness center.”
Location was a major sticking point with the proposed center.
“From our focus groups there were only a couple of areas of consensus, and one of them was, that for one reason or another, they were not crazy about the proposed location,” said Karen Shumate, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
The city’s recreation center — complete with eight gyms, an indoor turf field, fitness center and other amenities — will be built near the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway on the far northwest edge of the city.
If the hospital wants to pursue a wellness center, the consultants recommended a site closer to the city’s population, with a location between Wakarusa Drive and Iowa Street drawing interest from a majority of stakeholders.
The issue of whether the recreation center will be too far removed from the city’s population has been a question throughout the recreation center debate. Dever said he’s hoping the hospital and community members take another look at the location.
“I think people need to just start understanding that it is not that far out of town,” Dever said. “The topography makes it feel farther away than it is, even though it is about a mile from one of the busier intersections in town.”
Hospital CEO Gene Meyer said the idea of what should be in a wellness center remains unsettled as well.
“I think we all believe wellness is a key component of our mission, but what exactly that means is still fuzzy,” Meyer said.
The consultants said several stakeholders mentioned the need for more classroom space to teach everything from smoking cessation to stress-management classes. There also was a consensus that the community needs a “teaching kitchen,” which would allow the hospital to teach nutritional programs.
Stakeholders didn’t reach a consensus on larger-ticket items, such as the need for a therapeutic pool, weight and fitness rooms and other similar features.
To build a full-scale wellness center, the consultants estimated the hospital would need about 15,000 square feet, and it would need to be configured differently from what the city offered. If the hospital wants to have a presence at the new recreation center, the consultants recommend collaborating with the Parks and Recreation Department on some classroom space and perhaps a teaching kitchen.
Hospital board members may be asked to weigh in on the issue in August, Shumate said.
In other business, board members:
• Accepted a report detailing that LMH provided $8.6 million in unpaid community services to the Douglas County area in 2012. That’s up from $7.9 million in 2011. The services included about $3.8 million for charity care and $4.1 million in uncompensated services provided to Medicaid patients. The balance was for items ranging from costs for community clinics, health fairs, donations to various organizations and other such expenses.
• Agreed to send a letter to the Kansas Attorney General’s office invoking a temporary exemption to the state’s new concealed-carry law. The exemption will prohibit concealed-carry permit holders from bringing a weapon into the hospital. The exemption period for hospitals runs through at least June 2017.