Integrated Wellness Partners has projects that total more than $145 million in investments
The $65 million NEOMED Education and Wellness Center debuted in August 2014.
Integrated Wellness Partners’ top brass would bristle at the company being characterized as a mere gym operator, and fairly so, given that its complex model for delivering health and wellness centers is the reason the company is gaining traction across the state and even country.
The company, which is part of the Akron-based investment and development firm Signet Enterprises, launched quietly in 2011 but has since grown to include wellness center projects that boast more than $145 million in total investments. Within the last year, centers in conjunction with Northeast Ohio Medical University and Ohio State Wexner Medical Center went live. Also, in May, Signet broke ground on a $35 million facility in Bloomington, Ill., with Advocate Healthcare — the largest health system in Illinois — and other partners.
And with membership growing at a steady clip at its live centers and beating projections, “It puts us in a position where we are getting a lot of inquiries about this concept from major hospital systems and other institutions across the country,” according to Mark Corr, Signet Enterprises’ president and chief operating officer.
Leading the Integrated Wellness Partners’ effort is Jim Ellis, who arrived at the company in October 2013. Ellis, a triathlete, arrived with more than 25 years experience in the medically based fitness center space. Before joining the Integrated Wellness Partners team, he helped launch a center with the University of Colorado.
“What attracted me to come here, as beautiful as Northeast Ohio is and to leave Colorado, was the opportunity to do something that was truly turnkey,” said Ellis, the company’s executive vice president and managing director.
“I’ve spent most of my career in meetings with health care executives who love the model and the idea of adding health and wellness to their continuum of care, but they had so many competing demands for their capital,” Ellis said.
Integrated Wellness Partners’ value play, thanks to its close ties with Signet’s real estate and financing arms, is investing significant capital into these burgeoning projects and thus is taking on some of the risk. Integrated Wellness Partners also staffs and operates the fitness centers, which have close ties with local medical providers for rehab and other services.
Health systems in particular find the model attractive given their steady march toward embracing population health and redesigning their care system to focus on keeping people healthy rather than treating them only when their sick.
“They’re willing to put something in the operation,” said Dan Like, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s executive director for ambulatory services.
“The better it does and faster it starts making money, the quicker they get their return,” Like said. “We like that too because it took away from our capital requirements and shifted some of the risk.”
None of Integrated Wellness Partners’ projects is the same, and company leaders say its flexibility — largely due to its ties with Signet’s other divisions — is what differentiates it from its competitors. The Bloomington effort is particularly intriguing because so many partners are involved, which in addition to Integrated Wellness Partners and Advocate, include an orthopedics practice and sports performance clinic.
“They’ve demonstrated a management expertise and an approach to the market that doesn’t just come in like a traditional health club,” said John Hesse, the vice president of business development for Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital. “It targets healthy behaviors and specific disease states with all these partners.”
Integrated Wellness Partners views these centers as community hubs of sorts. One way the company is driving more traffic into their centers is through workplace wellness programs that are intertwined with the fitness facility in each market.
As part of that effort, Integrated Wellness Partners recently hired away from the Cleveland Clinic Melissa Hendricks, who had served as the health care giant’s manager of employee wellness.
“Bricks and mortar are a platform to localize worksite wellness for employers in the community,” Ellis said. “Worksite wellness has grown up and become a distance-related thing.
In some respects, it usually happens from call centers. What they don’t have and what we can provide are experts just down the street that can be there and have face-to-face interactions.”
Meanwhile, when Integrated Wellness Partners launched in 2011, it was a joint venture between Signet and Akron General Health System. That partnership eventually unraveled just before Akron General agreed to sell a minority stake of its enterprise to the Clinic.
Still, Akron General is pressing forward with commercializing its own wellness center concept — something for which it has earned national recognition — though it hasn’t announced any deals. A year ago, Akron General announced it teamed up The Boldt Co., a Wisconsin-based real estate development firm, to provide financing and construction services for any future projects.