Habersham County officials hosted a town hall meeting with members of Total Fitness on Monday. Several dozen members of the group attended.
Habersham County Manager Alicia Vaughn and Parks and Recreation Director Brooke Whitmire hosted the meeting. The main purpose, they said, was to get input from members ahead of the county taking over the program next week.
Habersham Medical Center, which currently operates the fitness center, recently cut the program from its budget and is donating its gym equipment to the county. The Habersham County Parks and Recreation Department will assume operations on March 6.
“This is kind of new for us, so be very patient with us as we work through this,” Vaughn told those in attendance.
Vaughn explained to the audience that Total Fitness was losing money, and that is the reason for the hospital closing the facility. She explained that the hospital had one full-time employee and three part-time employees. The hospital also rented from the county the space that they currently use to house the fitness center.
Many were concerned that if the hospital were losing money, would the county taking it over be a viable option? Vaughn explained that the county will only have to add one full-time person to oversee the operation. She said the county has enough part-time employees already on staff. She also said that since the county owns the facility, there will be no rent payment.
One issue discussed during the meeting was what the fee structure will look like going forward. Nothing was decided, but there was some consensus for a fee that would offer a discount for senior citizens and military/veterans.
According to Vaughn, the county will continue to recognize the Silver Sneakers program, as well as other fitness programs offered by Medicare. One challenge with these programs, she said, is that they are based on a per-visit reimbursement plan for services provided, and a set fee would be difficult for those members.
For example, a flat monthly fee wouldn’t work with those programs because Medicare pays $3 per visit for up to 10 visits in a month and reimburses for those services in the next month.
While some have criticized the county’s decision to take over the program, Total Fitness members remain appreciative.
Barbara Nellesen told Now Habersham, “I especially appreciated the fact the county solicited input from the members and an employee [from Total Fitness] because they are the ones that have the pulse of what’s going on in the facility.”