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YMCA's new branch partners with Independent Health

A new $23 million YMCA branch planned near Erie Community College's North Campus in Amherst will be bolstered by an unusual partnership with Independent Health.

The nonprofit health insurance company struck a deal with YMCA Buffalo Niagara to provide $2 million toward the project in exchange for the facility's naming rights, special programming at the site and discounted YMCA fees for its members.

The 92,000-square-foot fitness center will be known as the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA.

The partnership is modeled after similar ones between YMCAs and hospitals and health insurers in North Carolina and Virginia, said John D. Murray, president and CEO of YMCA Buffalo Niagara.

"It's really an effort to move people out of sedentary lifestyles and into more active lifestyles, which all the data says saves on medical costs," Murray said.

Programming details have not yet been worked out, but the facility will include a comprehensive medical component -- including physical and occupational therapy -- and space set aside for Independent Health customers.

The YMCA expects to lease some space to a medical group, as well, and "new wrinkles" to the plan will be unveiled over the next few months, Murray said.

The building also will house two large gymnasiums, two swimming pools, multipurpose rooms, child care, aerobics studios, an indoor running track and an adventure room with a climbing wall.

Having fitness facilities under the same roof as occupational and physical therapy has been successful in other markets, said Dr. Michael W. Cropp, president and CEO of Independent Health.

Patients go there for rehabilitation work, he said, and when finished, they're motivated to stay active and feel comfortable doing so in the same family-type environment where they were successful with their rehab.

"That model works," Cropp said.

Independent Health's investment will be spread over 10 years, and Cropp estimated that the company would recover those costs by steering its members away from sedentary lifestyles that can lead to costly medical procedures such as gastric bypass surgery.

Reducing those gastric bypass surgeries among its members by just 10 percent would save $2 million, Cropp said.

Cropp also pointed to national research showing that inactivity, excess weight and obesity are responsible for 27 percent of all health care costs in the United States.

Bammel Architects is designing the new facility, and Savarino Construction Services is the construction manager.

The YMCA purchased the 13-acre undeveloped plot in 2009 from Randall Memorial Baptist Church for $879,120.

The organization plans to launch a capital fundraising campaign shortly, and it has had discussions with Daemen College for the purchase of the current Northtowns Branch in Snyder once the new facility opens.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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