I was disheartened to learn that Valley Health has decided to permanently close the Luray Wellness & Fitness Center. This decision seems antithetical to the Valley Health mission that outlines a commitment to “to enhance health education, prevention, chronic disease management, and accessible healthcare for those with limited resources.” The institutional support of the Luray Fitness Center provided the opportunity for residents with limited means to engage in the exercise prescribed by the very same healthcare providers that Valley Health employs to champion the health of the community.
This decision comes at a particularly inopportune season, as the weather turns cold and daylight is shorter, there are limited opportunities for residents to replace their exercise routine with outdoor activities. There is no other exercise facility in a less-than-20-mile radius. The residents of Page County struggle with limited resources to address chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental health disorders and chronic pain. Residents cannot afford the time or expense to travel to Front Royal or Harrisonburg. Closing the fitness center in Page County has amplified the isolation of this community, and this short-sighted decision will certainly adversely affect health outcomes for residents.
Why does a Northern Virginia resident have such strong opinions on the closing of a fitness center in Luray? My late mother, Patt Oakley, worked as a nurse practitioner at the Valley Health primary care offices in both Luray and Shenandoah and would be the first to tell you that the treatment plan for her patients included taking advantage of community resources like the fitness center to achieve their health goals. She modeled the benefit of regular exercise for her patients by frequenting the fitness center 2-3 times a week until her death in 2016. She would be stunned and saddened to learn of its closing and bereft at the lost opportunity for her patients. My father and stepmother are residents of Stanley who go to the gym in Luray several times a week. The closure of this facility has disrupted their attempts to maintain health and wellness. Physical benefits aside, the loss of routine and social connection that are paramount to successful aging are significant and cannot be replicated with free weights and a treadmill at home.
This may seem like a straightforward financial decision to the administration of Valley Health, but it has far-reaching implications for the lives of the local community. I am keen to hear how Valley Health plans to support the physical well-being of the Page County community in the wake of this unfortunate loss.
Carrie Dougherty, MD FAHS ~ Associate Professor of Neurology, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
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