Silver Sneakers remains strong in Western Pa. as Pittsburgh YMCA drops programs |
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Paul Guggenheimer

The Silver Sneakers fitness program for seniors is being cut by the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

The program will continue at other YMCAs throughout Western Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh-area branches will seek to keep low cost fitness options for seniors.

Greg Swetoha, Chief Operating Officer for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, called cutting the free program that is part of many Medicare Advantage insurance plans, a “difficult decision.” The program is ending due to changes in reimbursement rates for Silver Sneakers participants.

The program will still be available at all Valley Points YMCA branches including Allegheny Valley, New Kensington and Kiski. All other Westmoreland County YMCA’s will still have Silver Sneakers including the Greensburg YMCA.

Mike Newell, CEO of the Valley Points YMCA, said he’s glad they can continue to offer the Silver Sneakers program to seniors at the three branches.

“We run on year-to-year contracts so I can’t speak indefinitely but we are set for 2019,” said Newell.

That’s good news for Lynn Wonderling, 67, of Buffalo Township. She is happy that she and her friends can still work out together for free as part of the Silver Sneakers program at the Allegheny Valley YMCA in Harrison.

“I know couples that don’t have a lot of money, and if it wasn’t for Silver Sneakers, they wouldn’t be able to go to the gym at all,” said Wonderling. “There are a lot of elderly people that wouldn’t be able to afford it. They wouldn’t exercise which would be bad for their health.”

Wonderling says socialization is as much a part of the Silver Sneakers experience as working out.

“We started a coffee club at the Y,” she said. “After they exercise, people sit down together at a table and have coffee or tea and talk and, as a result, we have developed a lot of friendships.”

Suzanne Printz, director of member and community relations for the Greensburg YMCA, said the branch’s program is in good shape.

“We are thrilled to be a part of Silver Sneakers for our senior citizens. We are fully invested in serving our seniors through that outlet,” Printz said.

About 3,500 people, age 65 and over, are enrolled in the program at the Pittsburgh area YMCAs. The program includes Zumba, yoga, strength training, and group exercise classes designed for senior citizens. About 1,000 people a month take advantage of the classes, Swetoha said. Silver Sneakers is owned and administered by Tivity Health of Franklin, Tennessee.

“They are a fine company. They pay us a fee, based upon usage, up to so many visits a month and that’s where the sustainability issue comes in quite frankly,” said Swetoha.

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh entered into a two-month stint in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last May followed a month later by the closure of branches in Downtown Pittsburgh and Delmont in Westmoreland County.

“As we went through bankruptcy, we had to take a look at all of our operations to determine what we needed to change in order to be more sustainable moving forward,” Swetoha said. “The reimbursement model that Tivity currently has in place may have been fine in the past, but we can’t continue with that and operate successfully.”

He said that while the Silver Sneakers program will end at the end of January in Pittsburgh, there are plans to continue to provide programs for seniors .

“Seniors can continue to use the facility for free in January, and we will continue offering our senior membership and we will work with every senior to ensure that they will still be able to be a part of our Y family,” he said.

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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