Winter Park Will Lead a Wellness Revolution

By Dana S. Eagles
Winter Park’s Center for Health & Wellbeing will bring fitness, medicine and wellness education together in one state-of-the-art facility, which will encompass clinical space, activity rooms, a café, a demonstration kitchen and a new-and-improved version of the Peggy & Philip B. Crosby Wellness Center YMCA.

In Winter Park, wellness is becoming much more than a worthy goal. It’s taking physical form as construction starts on the Center for Health & Wellbeing, which will bring fitness, medicine and wellness education together in a building designed to stir both body and soul.

The $40 million center, created through a partnership of the Winter Park Health Foundation and Winter Park Memorial Hospital, is expected to open late next year just south of the hospital on the site of the old Peggy and Philip B. Crosby Wellness Center YMCA, which has been razed to make way for construction.

The Center for Health & Wellbeing will have clinical space, rooms for education and community activities, a café and demonstration kitchen, and an upgraded Crosby Y, whose members are using other facilities during construction. The Crosby Y will be the only part of the new center requiring a membership.

Since its inception in 1994, the foundation has been known for quietly funding health programs through grants and partnerships in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville — from fighting diabetes to placing nurses in public schools.

In 2015, by its own calculation, the foundation had a community impact of almost $5.3 million. But as the center’s developer, it’s becoming much more visible in its support for wellness, which is a concept that means different things to different people.

Patty Maddox, president and CEO of the Winter Park Health Foundation, reviews plans for the center with architect Turan Duda of Duda|Paine in Durham, North Carolina. The company also designed the Duke Integrative Medicine building at Duke University, a project that impressed foundation officials. Photo by Rafael Tongol

“We embrace that variability,” says Patty Maddox, the foundation’s longtime president and CEO. Factors such as mobility and mental readiness can determine the meaning of wellness for individuals, she adds. “We want people to feel comfortable — what’s the best they can be?”

The two-story center, with its light-flooded grand hall called The Commons, abundant gardens and site bordering the city’s 66-acre Ward Park, will be a landmark that can serve as a constant reminder that “health is important and pervasive,” Maddox says.

At the heart of the center’s mission is integration. It will bring together in one place services that can help people improve and maintain their health — with free parking in a five-level garage.

The center will be open every day of the week, with evening hours, too. Members of the Crosby Y will swim, work out on fitness machines or learn exercise routines in classes. Winter Park Memorial clinicians will offer consultation, therapy and rehabilitation. Experts will help home cooks learn how to prepare healthful meals. Walkers will use tracks inside the building and on the grounds.

For Winter Park Memorial, the center offers a chance to “bend the cost curve” by preventing disease and keeping people out of a sick bed, says hospital Administrator Jennifer Wandersleben. The hospital is planning to offer primary care, pharmacy, nutrition, physical therapy, mental health and massage therapy services there, she says.

“We want to align with their mission — they have the experience and the reach that we don’t have,” Wandersleben says of the foundation, which grew out of the sale of Winter Park Memorial first to Columbia/HCA and then to current owner Florida Hospital. The foundation and the Winter Park hospital have maintained close ties over the years.

At the heart of the two-story center will be a light-flooded grand hall called The Commons, a welcoming space highlighted by warm shades of wood and an undulating ceiling.“The notion of discovery is a big one for me,”says Duda. “The power of architecture through experience to change the way you think and feel is really wonderful.”

Financial incentives within the healthcare industry are shifting to value wellness and not just office visits, tests and procedures, Wandersleben says. And there’s another reason supporting wellness makes sense, she says: It was a founding principle for what eventually became Adventist Health System, Florida Hospital’s parent organization. Seventh-day Adventist medical pioneers were promoting the importance of fresh air, sunshine and healthful eating 150 years ago, she says. “We’re going back to our roots.”

Dr. Eddie Needham sees the center’s significance from two vantage points: He’s the program director of the Florida Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program and a trustee of the Winter Park Health Foundation. “Preventive medicine is the ace of spades for family medicine,” says Needham.

Twenty to 30 percent of Americans are hard-chargers when it comes to wellness, Needham observes. He figures that another third will ignore wellness advice no matter what and will stay on the couch watching reruns of The Walking Dead.

But he has a chance to make a difference with the middle group — those who are receptive to a wellness message and whose lives might change with even one positive choice. He sees obesity and tobacco use as two especially critical “behavioral determinants” of disease.

Bringing that educational message together with fitness and medicine is what will make the center distinctive, says Debbie Watson, the foundation’s vice president. “A lot of what we plan to offer is educationally oriented, to raise awareness.”

Watson envisions having medical professionals available to answer questions about blood sugar, for example; an ongoing showcase for programs and products related to health; classes and lectures presented in cooperation with community partners; and a network that uses the Internet to take the message beyond the center’s walls.

Maddox says she hopes people who visit one part of the center will discover new ways to stay well. “This is about building a place where people can get new information and insights into getting healthy,” she says. “I think there’ll be a lot of unintentional wellness going on.”

Some unexpected wellness may come from the building itself, whose materials, gardens and natural light are intended to promote well-being. The project’s architect, Turan Duda of Duda|Paine in Durham, North Carolina, has emphasized what he calls “the healing power of nature and gardens.”

Gardens around the building will have various purposes — one for contemplation, for example, and another for aroma, he says. A series of “garden walls” of varying heights — some of them part of the facade — will create what Duda calls a “layering effect” in the building’s design. “We want people to experience the outside of the building as much as the inside,” he says.

Inside, the Commons will offer warm shades of wood and an undulating ceiling. Despite the Commons’ massive size, furniture will create “rooms within the room” and provide a sense of intimacy, Duda says. “My goal is that people who come to this space have a choice of where they are most comfortable.”

Duda|Paine’s earlier design of the Duke Integrative Medicine building at Duke University helped convince the foundation that the firm was right for the Winter Park project. Maddox says foundation representatives visited other wellness-oriented centers whose programs were interesting but whose buildings were not.

The Duke building, however, creates a warm, low-stress environment, partly through the use of wood, stone and plants. “We all had the same response — the building was speaking to us,” Maddox recalls. “We all felt this calming influence.”

Duda says he wants the Center for Health & Wellbeing to be transformative through architecture, just as its founders hope it can change lives through the facilities, expertise and fellowship it offers.

The $40 million center is being built just south of Winter Park Memorial Hospital on the site of the old Crosby Y. It borders 66-acre Ward Park.

“The notion of discovery is a big one for me,” he says. “The power of architecture through experience to change the way you think and feel is really wonderful.”

The center is attracting the attention of many of the world’s leading experts in the fields of active aging and medical fitness, including Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, whose organization is consulting with the foundation.

“I believe this project has the potential to change the way we age,” Milner says. “It changes the way we view aging — and the way we actually live — by providing services that perhaps hadn’t been available before in your community.”

Milner describes the center as “morphing from the old model of ‘senior center,’ where people used to go to congregate and socialize, to where it’s all about evolution, embracing new technologies and embracing possibilities. A center like that is literally shaking the foundation of society.”

Crosby Y Will Become Part of the Continuum of Care With Certification

The Peggy & Philip B. Crosby Wellness Center YMCA plans to begin the process of seeking Medical Fitness Association (MFA) certification for its staff.

This rigorous, multiyear process will allow physicians to prescribe exercise as medicine — an increasingly popular method for encouraging fitness and disease management.

“The Crosby Y is the first YMCA in the country to have gotten as far as they have,” says Bob Boone, MFA president and CEO. “There are others who have expressed interest, but the Crosby Y is farthest down the road.”

With MFA certification, adds Boone, fitness centers become embedded into the local continuum of care. “That’s what’s so unique about a YMCA doing this,” he notes. “YMCAs are not typically thought of as part of the healthcare system.”

Staffers at the YMCA of Central Florida are already heavily credentialed, says Mary Cox, associate executive director of the Crosby Y. Its wellness directors, personal trainers and lifestyle coaches are mandated to hold YMCA of the USA certifications.

Where appropriate, they also hold certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE), among other certifying organizations, Cox notes.

“An MFA-certified facility uses a member’s unique medical profile as a baseline,” says Cox. “This enables medical fitness professionals to design a dynamic, safe and medically supervised program to achieve optimal health — and to prevent and treat disease through the incorporation of exercise-based therapies.”

MFA certification will give physicians “a gold standard in assurance” that they’re referring patients to a state-of-the-art facility with a highly trained staff, she notes, adding that certification could be granted by 2020.

How Healthy Are We, Really?

Just how healthy are people who live in and around Winter Park? Healthy Central Florida, an initiative of the Winter Park Health Foundation and Florida Hospital, has been asking that question for a while.

Its most recent State of Our Health report, based on a 2014 survey, found that 60 percent of adults in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville rated their health as excellent or very good.

Fourteen percent, however, rated it only fair or poor — and that number didn’t change much from HCF’s 2011 survey.

Although HCF’s survey data is based on self-reporting, Executive Director Jill Hamilton Buss says studies show residents’ own assessments of their overall health status are actually a good indicator of a community’s health.

An encouraging trend, Buss says, is the decline in the number of people who say they smoke — from an average of 16 percent across the three cities in 2011 to 11 percent in 2014. That compares to 15 percent nationwide. In Maitland, only 7 percent identified themselves as smokers in 2014.

But the rate of prediabetes — elevated blood glucose levels that show a person is at risk of diabetes — was 10 percent in 2014, about twice the national rate. Buss says relatively high numbers of older residents, especially in Winter Park, may have something to do with the finding.

Twelve percent of those surveyed in the three cities said they had diabetes — about the same as in the U.S. as a whole. But the number of Eatonville residents with diabetes was almost double that number, at 23 percent.

In response, HCF helped start Healthy Eatonville Place, a community center that aims to combat diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems through education and lifestyle management. It’s operated by Florida Hospital and funded by the hospital, the foundation and pharmaceutical maker Sanofi.

About 56 percent of residents in the Winter Park area were classified as overweight — and that number didn’t budge significantly between surveys. But almost half said they were trying to lose weight.

Nearly one-third said they had been diagnosed with high blood pressure at some point.

“Awareness is improving and the intention to get healthy is improving,” says Buss, who frequently talks to civic groups and politicians about making the community wellness-friendly through policy changes and improvements in infrastructure: building the bike lanes, sidewalks and trails that connect neighborhoods and make it possible to integrate physical activity into everyday life, for example.

The survey indicated that existing amenities are being used: About 38 percent of those surveyed in 2014 said they were using a park or trail for walking, running or biking at least once a week — up from 27 percent in 2011.

“The built environment is really key,” Buss says. “If you have a place to walk and bike safely, people love to do it. People like to be where other people are.”

Not every positive change requires government spending, though. Encouraged by the decline in smoking — and the survey finding that most people regard secondhand smoke as “very harmful” — HCF started a campaign called Breathe Free Winter Park. Nearly 50 restaurants have signed on voluntarily to make their outdoor patios smoke-free.

Although Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville residents cope with many of the same health challenges other communities face, they’re scoring high on an aspect of health often overlooked: happiness. Although 17 percent said they found daily life very stressful, 95 percent called themselves very or somewhat happy.

The survey report is available at by clicking on the “Resources” tab.

— Dana S. Eagles

7 Dimensions of Wellness

Wellness means a lot more than just checking your blood pressure once in a while and skipping that second slice of pie. In creating the Center for Health & Wellbeing, the Winter Park Health Foundation was guided by the seven dimensions of wellness adopted by the International Council on Active Aging.

Here are the dimensions, along with brief descriptions from the association. For more information, visit

1. Emotional: Feelings are the lens through which people view the world, and the ability to be aware of and direct one’s feelings helps to create balance in life.

2. Intellectual, cognitive: Engaging in creative pursuits and intellectually stimulating activities is a proven approach to keeping minds alert and interested.

3. Physical: The goal of living independently is one shared by many people, and physical wellness is necessary to achieve this.

4. Professional, vocational: Work that utilizes a person’s skills while providing personal satisfaction is valuable for society as well as the individual.

5. Social: Interactions with family, friends, neighbors and chosen peer groups can be valuable for maintaining health.

6. Spiritual: Living with a meaning and purpose in life, guided by personal values, is key to feelings of well-being and connection to the larger world.

7. Environmental: Good stewardship means respecting resources by choosing “green” processes and urban designs that encourage active living.

Share This Post