Over the last 30 years, the New Albany community has cultivated a culture of health and wellness and has built an infrastructure to support a continued, growing focus on health well into the future.
“Wellness has been a part of this community since before any of (the current staff) got here, since the founding of the modern-day community.” says City Manager Joe Stefanov.
But how did we get here? It’s a long story.
Even when New Albany was small farm town, doctors practiced in the area, including Dr. Sylvester Ranney, who was born in 1830. In 1862, he bought the 1845 building on High Street in New Albany. He lived on one side and had his office in the other side. Sometimes, his patients stayed overnight upstairs.
Dr. Claude Estle practiced out of an office at 24 S. High St. from 1918 through 1956. His wife, Nina, was a nurse who was trained at Mount Carmel’s school of nursing. A newspaper clipping from May 1976 describes the building where the Estles lived and worked: “A friendly, homey attitude always prevailed at the Estle home and office. Often patients enjoyed the aroma of homemade pastries and meals while they waited to see the doctor.”
Another prominent doctor of years gone by was Dr. Alexander Doran, uncle of Jimmy Doran of Doran’s Farm Market. Alexander Doran was born in 1896 and fought in World War II. His office was in Gahanna, but his practice was widespread and he made house calls in the New Albany area.
The New Albany Country Club opened its doors in 1992. New Albany had started to become the town it is today, and the country club encouraged new residents to engage in active pursuits such as golf, tennis and swimming.
Seven years later, the Mount Carmel Health and Wellness Center was founded on the New Albany-Plain Local Schools campus. The facility was a partnership between Mount Carmel, the school district and the New Albany Community Authority.
“The original intention … was to incorporate wellness into the school campus and to provide access to medical facilities for the students, as well as the residents,” Stefanov says of the now defunct Health and Wellness Center, which has since been converted to a Mount Carmel Medical Group primary health care office. “When it was built, there really weren’t any other medical facilities here.”
The centrally-located Health and Wellness Center was just one example of New Albany prioritizing the health of its residents, says Jennifer Chrysler, city director of community development. A healthful quality of life was one of the values built into the Master Plan created by The New Albany Company in the 1980s and into the city’s own Master Plan developed in the last decade.
“At the time, it was about taking a location like New Albany that didn’t have medical facilities and putting one into a place that was in close proximity to the primary place people were going, which was the schools,” Chrysler says.
At this point, the creation of the city’s extensive network of leisure trails was already underway. Residential and business developers agreed to create new trails and connect ones that were already in place. New Albany, too, puts money – between $250,000 and $500,000 a year – toward leisure trail development, says Stefanov.
“(Leisure trails have) consistently ranked among the top priorities for members of the community,” Stefanov says. “Our businesses have recognized the benefit to their employees, and we’ve had some businesses that have actually modified their facilities to create amenities – putting in showers so that their employees can actually utilize the trail system that runs throughout the Business Park.”
The city currently has 30 miles of leisure trails – all the better for Healthy New Albany Founder Phil Heit, who moved to New Albany in 2002 after a decade of driving to the country club almost every day from his home in Bexley.
Heit, a marathon runner turned walker, attracted a crowd of other walkers on his frequent strolls around town. He started the New Albany Walking Club in 2003, then the New Albany Walking Classic in 2005.
“The more I walked, the more people would join me for walks and it got to a point where I said, ‘OK, let’s start a walking club,’” Heit says. “(The club) just grew and grew to the point where I realized that more people walk than run, so why not have a walking-only race that will be done on the same scale as a running race?”
Around the same time Heit was relocating to New Albany, a group of central Ohio physicians was planning to open a specialty orthopedic hospital on Smith’s Mill Road.
The New Albany Surgical Hospital was created by a group of more than 25 local physicians – one of whom was orthopedic surgeon Dr. Adolph Lombardi Jr. The 30-bed hospital opened in December 2003 and was purchased by Mount Carmel three years later.
“(The hospital) was very unique for its time,” Stefanov says. “Dr. Lombardi (and the other physicians) designed that building from the ground up to be specifically geared to the needs of orthopedic patients, and to this day, if you go to any other hospital that performs orthopedic procedures in central Ohio – and perhaps throughout the country – you won’t find (another) one that has been specifically designed for the needs of orthopedic patients.”
The hospital opened a $16 million, 18-bed expansion in 2011 and is now one of the city’s top 10 employers. With the help of the city’s high-speed, 96-strand fiber network, begun in 2006 and powered up in 2009, doctors at the hospital are able to stream procedures live for educational purposes.
Adjacent to the hospital are two 60,000-square-foot medical office buildings, which house the offices of Joint Implant Surgeons (whose physicians, including Lombardi, were founding members of the hospital) and OrthoNeuro, which specializes in musculoskeletal and neurologic disorders and has an urgent care. Nearby buildings house additional medical professionals, such as general practitioners, ophthalmologists, orthodontists and dentists.
The Walking Classic is now the largest walking-only race in the country. In 2010, its continued success prompted Heit and Craig Mohre, president of the New Albany Community Foundation, to consider creating a more comprehensive health program. Healthy New Albany’s programming – including the New Albany Farmers Market, the Community Garden, the lecture series and this magazine – was born out of the interests of the group’s volunteer members.
All of the infrastructure is in place for New Albany’s next big step: the creation of the new community wellness center, which is scheduled to open in 2014.
The planned 48,000-square-foot wellness center – a joint partnership between the city, Healthy New Albany and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center – has been in the works for a year and a half already, Heit says.
“The idea came up of doing something very health-oriented, but focusing on prevention; looking at fitness with the idea of preventing, rather than treating illness … and combining that with health-related retail and restaurants that focus on having healthful foods,” Heit says. “That concept has never been done before.”
The building will be owned by the city, with OSU as the primary tenant, operating clinical space on the second floor and a first-floor fitness center. Healthy New Albany will oversee 5,500 square feet, which will tentatively include a demonstration kitchen and a community
New Albany’s commitment to health starts with people – doctors such as Estle, with his private practice, Lombardi with the hospital or Heit and the Healthy New Albany team and the group’s various initiatives. These people drive the city’s values, Stefanov says, and values drive its direction into the future.
For Heit, the creation of the wellness center is just another step toward his eventual goal: making New Albany the healthiest city in America.
“I’m always dreaming, but really what I’d like to see down the road is that we can use evidence-based research to say that New Albany is the healthiest city in the United States and for us to establish benchmarks for measuring how a community becomes healthy,” Heit says.
Lisa Aurand is editor of Healthy New Albany Magazine. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.