Greenville Hospital System — which already operates a Life Center that includes a health club facility for hospital employees, cardiac rehabilitation patients and the general public — plans to build two more similar health facilities in the county.

The club owners in the area, who have banded together with a local taxpayer group to form the Coalition for Healthy Competition, have complained that the hospital has moved too far fromits original intent, which is to provide good health care for citizens of the county. In addition, the two facilities would be located in markets that are already saturated, and the hospital, as a non-profit entity, enjoys unfair tax advantages over for-profit clubs, said Bob Provost, owner of the Greenville Racquet & Health Club, which would be 7/8th of a mile from one of the proposed clubs.

The coalition recently handed the hospital administration three variations on the hospital's plans for the wellness center after the administration met with the club owners and asked for their suggestions.

The first option suggests running the new facilities for employees and patients only. The second option is to lease out the fitness portion of the wellness project to an independent, for-profit operator. The last option would be to run the facility on a for-profit basis with a few caveats. Those caveats are that if the wellness center uses hospital money, then the for-profit division would pay a debt service on that money; that the for-profit division would pay real estate and property taxes on the property used; and that all sales taxes on supplies and equipment would be paid and that the facilities would pay state and federal income tax on any profits.

The hospital's current health club — which has 500 cardiac patients, 1,500 hospital employee members and 4,000 members from the community — includes amenities such as a swimming pool, running track and weight equipment, as well as cardiac rehabilitation. The hospital system plans to provide similar amenities at the new facilities. Provost's 60,000-square-foot club is a multipurpose center that already offers locals an indoor and outdoor track, a swimming pool, basketball, racquetball, indoor and outdoor tennis and cardiovascular, strength and weight equipment.

George Gagnon is owner of Greer Athletic Club, a fitness-only facility near the site of the second planned facility in Greer, S.C. He also is part of the club coalition.

“We don't mind competition — we aren't afraid of that,” said Gagnon. “We just want fair competition. Our goal is to stop these facilities and bring the hospital system to accountability.”

If the clubs are built, Provost and Gagnon say that all hope is not lost although some of their membership may be.

“We'd just have to plan to beat them at the game of the club business with better classes, better attention to needs, a cleaner facility, keeping up with the best equipment, and having the most up-to-date classes,” Provost said.

The hospital plans to begin constructing the first facility in January 2004 with construction expected to take 18 months.

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