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Colorado Hospital CEO Sets Fitness Example

COLORADO SPRINGS -- Striding the halls of Penrose Hospital, one of four hospitals she runs, Margaret Sabin looks every bit the president and CEO she is -- perfectly tailored suit, stylish coif, purposeful air.

Twenty minutes later, not so much. The confidence and determination remain, but now she's in workout garb, sweating, laughing, shouting as she leads 30 or so folks in a kick-butt exercise class in the hospital fitness room.

Twice a week, no matter what thorny issues she's wrangling with, Sabin, 53, does her quick-change routine into workout instructor (she has been certified since 2001).

"You guys are animals today," she bellows happily to the class, which includes the hospital CFO and the manager of the GI lab, and is often attended by the now-trim head of the oncology unit (who has lost 40-plus pounds).

'We should be role models'

Sabin loves helping nurture colleagues into more healthful lives and gets a little emotional when she speaks of an employee so overweight that bariatric surgery was recommended -- but through hard work, lifestyle and diet changes, she's approaching normal weight.

Sabin also is motivated by something nearly as compelling: "We are a health care system," she points out. "We should be role models."

She believes hospitals -- all in the medical community, in fact -- apply too little attention and resources to prevention. "We watch as people race toward the edge of the cliff. ... We've got the ambulances lined up at the bottom to take them in when they fall off. ... We've become excellent at fixing them up."

But prevention -- cheaper, better -- is rarely emphasized, she says. "We have to decide something: We're either going to be a sick care system or a health care system."

Beyond the hospital walls

So she does what she can. She has even taken her campaign to the streets: She spent $70,000 this year to offer a health-improvement program to residents of the neighborhood where one of the hospitals is located, drawing in more than 300 people for free screenings, classes and coaching.

In the not-quite two years she has had this job, she has replaced soft drinks with juice in most hospital vending machines, and meetings with one or two other people are often held while strolling the hospital campus. There's a hiking club and yoga classes. Six of her converts have lost more than 40 pounds.

All the attention on health improvement has not upended her operations, Sabin says. In fact, in the past year, the hospitals' bottom line has improved, employee morale is up, patient satisfaction numbers rose. "When you feel better," she says, "you do better."



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