Fitness center members protest facility’s closing

EDWARDSVILLE — Ninety-year-old Plymo uth resident Jean Zagorski has been exercising at Star Fitness Center in the Thomas P. Saxton Medical Pavilion in Edwardsville for nearly 20 years.

She was devastated when she learned that the Commonwealth Health facility will close on Dec. 1.

“I was sick about it,” she said. “It’s something for me to do. It’s close. It’s just like having another family here.”

Zagorski said she started coming to the fitness center in 1997 after quadruple bypass heart surgery.

She is among about 200 people who have signed a petition asking for the health system to reconsider its decision to close the fitness center.

The petition states that many have been members since its existence and are “deeply saddened” by the decision.

“Star Fitness is not just a gym — it is a special place and we deeply regret your decision to close,” the petition states. “Please reconsider this decision.”

Commonwealth Hea ­lth sent letters to Star Fitness members notifying them it will close effective Dec. 1.

The closing comes as other health system employees were laid off and hours were reduced for some positions.

Four full-time and two part-time employees work at the fitness center.

When asked why Star Fitness would close, Commonwealth Health spokeswoman Renita Fennick said in an emailed statement, “We regularly evaluate the services we offer.”

“Due to low utilization of the Star Fitness facility, Commonwealth Health Wilkes-Barre General Hospital has decided to concentrate its resources on hospital operations,” Fennick said. “Membership fees will be funded to those who have paid them beyond the Dec. 1 closure date.”

Fennick would not comment about displaced employees.

Carol Gagiliardy, 67, of Larksville, Star Fitness Center member, denied that the center is underused. She said more than 400 people use the facility.

She goes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, lifts weights and takes an aerobics class with about 25 other people.

“I’m older and this place is geared toward older people,” she said.

When she found out Star Fitness Center would close, she said, “I was devastated.”

“Nobody understands,” she said. “These are my friends. I’m losing my social life.”

Joyce Green, 67, of Edwardsville, also likes to go to the fitness center with other people her age.

“My cardiologist told me to come here for the seniors’ exercise class,” she said. “I’m upset they’re closing. We really want this and I love this.”

Kingston resident Frank Steinberg, 91, who retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center after working there 42 years, has been going to the fitness center since 2009. He follows a program set up for him there as a heart patient.

“I came from cardiac rehabilitation and I stayed because I love it,” Steinberg said.

When he found out it would close, Steinberg said, “I just couldn’t believe they would do something like that.”

Kingston resident Robert Leonardi, 88, said he was formerly was on the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital board when they decided to put in Star Fitness Center to take care of heart patients under rehabilitation.

Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and Commonwealth Health, a network of six hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania, are now owned by Franklin, Tennessee-based Com ­munity Health Systems, which is in financial distress and recently announced plans to sell hospitals to raise cash and pay down debt. The company has $15 billion in debt, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Corporate America came in and bigger is not always better,” Leonardi said. “I wish they would understand they broke up a family.”