Silver Sneakers is an insurance benefit included in more than 65 Medicare health plans. For a fee to a for-profit company called Healthways, seniors can visit fitness and wellness centers. Medicare and private insurers call it “preventive medicine.”
The Westport Weston Family Y is not one of those locations. According to alert — and angry — “06880” reader David Meth, every other Y in Fairfield County is.
Meth provided the names of over a dozen seniors who would like our Y to include Silver Sneakers as part of its membership program, and introduce more programs specifically for seniors.
Meth believes the Westport Y views older members as not a good business model.
He says that CEO Pat Riemersma told him a program like Silver Sneakers would bring in too many seniors. Part of the reason, he says, is that Riemersma told him of an agreement with the Planning and Zoning Commission that limits the total number of members. Meth says that Riemersma said the Y “needs to understand the trend before signing this type of agreement” (like Silver Sneakers).
Feeling that seniors are less valued than younger families, Meth combed the Y’s website looking for senior programs. He found a “gratuitous” photo on the mission statement page, of seniors having lunch. There also is a senior aquatics program.
Of course, Riemersma told him, seniors are invited to participate in classes and programs open to all Y members.
“Yes, get on the same floor with 20-30-year-olds and try to keep up,” Meth replies.
“That’s it. Not another program dedicated to seniors: no fitness programs, no yoga, Pilates, weightlifting, walks in the beautiful woods, etc., just to name a few that are absent. Not even a link or page for seniors to direct them to the one program available.”
Meth is upset too about the special monthly fee of $57 for seniors. He says that is “double the price of any other local fitness center.”
Riemersma replies: “Silver Sneakers is not a business model recognized by the national YMCA. It’s run by a for-profit entity. Seniors pay a fee to Healthways, and Ys get reimbursed based on the number of visits by an individual. We are a cost-driven organization.”
Regarding Meth’s assertion about the P&Z stipulation, Riemersma says, “We are limited to the number of members, but it has nothing to do with seniors. We want to stay within the agreement.”
She says that financial assistance is available to everyone — including seniors who cannot afford the reduced rate.
Riemersma vigorously denies Meth’s assertion that the Y does not value seniors.
“We serve all members, regardless of age,” she says. She cites programs like Senior Fridays, pickleball and chair aerobics, while pledging to do a better job of publicizing senior offerings on the website.
And, she says, “many members are actually offended by the phrase ‘active older seniors.'”
She says she would love to have a face-to-face or phone conversation about this with Meth.
He counters that he will communicate only by email.