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October 12, 2006

Does Pitt have enough fitness facilities?

With the University’s advocacy of the “fitness for life” initiative — a program designed to encourage individuals to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle — are there enough on-campus facilities to support faculty and staff exercise efforts?

That was part of a broad discussion last week at a meeting of the University Senate benefits and welfare committee, which also discussed the appropriate role of the recently formed Senate ad hoc committee on fitness for life.

Benefits and welfare committee chair Herbert Chesler said his committee for years prior to the fitness for life initiative had urged Pitt’s administration to create more on-campus recreational and exercise facilities for faculty and staff, with limited results.

The most obvious fruits of those efforts to date are the refurbished workout facilities at Bellefield Hall, for which Chesler thanked the administration. He recommended that benefits and welfare, together with the Senate plant utilization and planning (PUP) committee, monitor the improved facility’s usage to evaluate its adequacy for the faculty and staff population.

University Senate President John Baker, who is a Senate appointee to benefits and welfare, said, “I think one of the issues we’re going to face more and more over the coming years concerning the fitness for life program is whether the facilities we have are adequate. I was told the Bellefield facility is first-rate, but that it is small. I don’t see how we can possibly encourage people to maintain health as the fitness for life program envisions without fitness facilities that faculty and staff can use.”

Baker said he would invite Marilyn Ross, co-director of Intramurals and Recreation, to report on Bellefield Hall workout facilities usage at this week’s Senate Council meeting.

At Senate Council, Ross reported that the Bellefield Hall facilities “had expanded from about 900 sq. ft. — where we had weights and weight machines and stretching mats and everything all crammed into one room — to more than 2,000 sq. ft.”

(See Aug. 31 University Times.)

“I would say we’ve tripled our [people] capacity,” Ross said. “Before if you had 15 people there it really [felt crowded]. Now we can easily handle 45-50 people at one time, a major difference. There also is a separate free-weight facility, although we don’t have all the new equipment in yet.”

In September, the free weight area had 526 users; the fitness area had 3,002 users, she said. For the entire facility, which includes participants who signed up for personal training sessions or for exercise orientations, as well as aerobics and other fitness classes, the breakdown was: 826 staff users, 374 faculty and 2,749 students. “So even though we have the Baierl Recreation Center for students, students are still major users at Bellefield,” Ross said.

At the benefits and welfare committee meeting, Chesler noted that other buildings such as the University Club, which Pitt purchased in May 2005, might provide space for additional exercise facilities for faculty and staff.

Committee members also pointed to space identified in the University’s 12-year master facilities plan, which is under review by the chancellor. Although that plan has not yet been made public, some committee members have seen it in draft form.

Committee member Lisa Bernardo suggested a “decentralization of facilities approach,” similar to one that is in place at her school.

“At the nursing school, we have our own fitness facilities, and [Dean] Jacquie Dunbar-Jacob is committed to this and paid for that equipment,” Bernardo said. “We also have exercise classes, we have our own risk assessment tools, we give out our own flu shots. So you don’t always need equipment to help you be healthy.”

Help can come from individualized coaching or with health-tip reminders posted prominently at Pitt locations, she said.

“There are cheaper ways than just sticking in treadmills and ellipticals and hoping that people show up. We also need better programming for special needs populations, for pregnant ladies and people with heart disease, for example. Maybe a good start is looking at programs we have set up at the nursing school and how they might transfer to other places around the University,” Bernardo said.

Chesler said, “The fitness for life program here has gained enormous momentum. Our concern is that as a committee we be involved at every step. The Senate recently created an hoc committee and two subcommittees for dealing with issues related to fitness for life. We have the opportunity as a committee to have representatives on those subcommittees.”

Baker said that the risk assessment and management subcommittee nearly had completed its work, but that the wellness subcommittee could use more input.

Benefits and welfare committee members Robert Robertson and Bernardo agreed to serve on the wellness subcommittee.

Benefits and welfare agreed to ask the PUP committee, through President Baker, to appoint representatives to that subcommittee.

Discussion then turned to whether efforts of the Senate’s ad hoc committee were redundant with standing committee work already in progress and, as a result, those efforts were spreading Human Resources (HR) personnel too thin.

Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources (HR) and a chancellor’s liaison to the benefits and welfare committee, said his staff already reports to a number of similar, at times overlapping, committees, such as the Senate’s benefits and welfare committee, the Staff Association Council benefits committee and the medical advisory committee.

“Now we have this Senate ad hoc committee and, frankly, we’re having trouble helping them because we just don’t have the capacity,” Frisch said. “Originally, when we discussed this at the officer level of the University, it was to seek advice from our colleagues and not necessarily to have another committee to be around, or be in partnership, or whatever. I still don’t know how we’ll find the capacity to support it. It’s actually seen as a little bit of a conflict right now — who’s on first and who’s on second.”

Frisch said the Benefits staff’s first priority is to support standing committees. “We’re looking for clarification. Our intention has been that as we grow in the fitness for life initiatives, that since the [concept’s] genesis was here and it’s continued to perpetuate itself through this committee, that this be where we lend support. Right now we’re compromised a little bit.”

Baker said that the long-range plan is to have the work of the ad hoc committee come under benefits and welfare.

In other benefits and welfare committee developments:

• The group agreed to table discussions on Pitt’s smoking policies, pending final details of the recently approved county-wide smoking regulations. Pro-tem member Harvey Wolfe said. “I would suggest we postpone this discussion and let this shake out,” rather than make recommendations to the administration that might become moot under new laws, he said.

• HR director of benefits John Kozar reported that by Jan. 1 Davis Vision, the University’s designated vision care insurer, no longer will use Social Security numbers as its primary identification for participants. “Also, we are looking at this on a broader scope, in terms of the use of Social Security numbers. We take all the precautions you would expect to make sure a Social Security number is tightly secure as we do with all the other vendors,” including UPMC Health Plan, he said.

“A common practice with dental [insurance] is that they use the last four digits and when you see confirmation statements from [HR], we do that, too, but we’re trying to get rid of all that. We’re looking at the other vendors as well, to make sure we can restrict the use, to the extent we can, of that number.”

• Chesler announced that he was stepping down as committee chair to devote more efforts to retiree benefits issues. Patricia Weiss will serve as chair.

• The committee also went into executive session, from which the press was barred, to hear a confidential report from Frisch and Kozar.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 4

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