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Community rec centers are dedicated to the health and wellness of their members and members’ families, but one YMCA in Missouri is going above and beyond traditional offerings to encourage healthier lifestyles.

The YMCA of Greater Kansas City is the first and only community recreation center in the nation with a licensed medical doctor on staff — a staff addition that opens up new wellness possibilities for users.

“Healthcare is changing,” said John Mikos, the executive vice president and COO of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City. “The Y has been working for a long time on developing evidence-based chronic disease prevention and management programs.”

The decision was made so members could have access to the best level of medical fitness expertise. “To bridge the gap between what the Y does in prevention and what the medical community does, the YMCA of Greater Kansas City decided to bring a licensed medical doctor on staff,” said Mikos. “We needed someone on our team who understood and could speak the language of the medical community.”

According to Mikos, the presence of a medical doctor on staff has made as big of an impression on the immediate medical community as it has on the Y’s members.

“Having someone with a medical degree on our team has opened the door for more dialogue with the medical community and given the Y additional credibility,” said Mikos.

That credibility has allowed Mikos and his team to develop a strong rapport with surrounding medical institutions. “We’ve been able to start delivering a referral network of services provided by the Y that medical providers may have never known before,” he said. “The medical community is seeing the Y differently.”

And while the prevention and disease management services are excellent now, there were significant challenges for the Y to overcome before reaching this point.

“It’s a challenge to find somebody who’s interested in population health management and has a passion for changing the healthcare curve to focus on prevention and disease management, when all of the funding sources have not made the switch,” said Mikos.

According to Mikos, it’s taken a lot of work to align any medical treatments with health and wellness programs at the Y. “We’ve also looked at how to make sure the health services are integrated into one healthy living continuum with all of our healthy living programs,” he said.

Even if the health services and lifestyle programs are on the same continuum, however, Mikos would advise any community rec facility to conduct a careful evaluation before bringing a medical doctor on staff.

“First, Ys should build a foundation of services, community partners and relationships before thinking of hiring a medical doctor,” said Mikos. “It may take several years to build this foundation. We spent two years of grassroots efforts and building relationships with health departments and hospital systems. Then we hired a medical doctor when we reached the point where we needed the credibility to get to the next level.”

In fact, the addition might not work everywhere. “Having a medical doctor on staff isn’t for everyone,” said Mikos. “Moving into healthcare opens up many more protocols and requirements, and it’s important to consider those internal investments.”

But if you’ve done careful evaluation and you’re looking to expand your rec center’s offerings to healthcare services, it might be worth following in the footsteps of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City and adding a medical doctor to your staff.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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