By Phyl Newbeck
Sharon Gutwin says she has been called a “disruptive innovator.” A physical therapist by training, she started the RehabGYM in Williston before adding locations in Colchester and Barre. Now, she’s developing a new Williston space on Blair Park Road called Kismet, which will combine physical therapy with medical fitness and nutrition.
“My passion as a physical therapist,” Gutwin said “is to keep people out of rehab. Even when I was at school, I recognized the failure of my profession to apply its knowledge to preventative care.”
For that reason, Gutwin thinks it’s important to combine physical therapy with medical fitness. “I took the risk to make that my business, and the business model has clearly been successful, she said.
Physical therapy is the fastest growing industry as far as health care is concerned because of people struggling with chronic disease.”
Gutwin sees a perfect storm in the need for physical therapy. “There’s a baby boomer population who refused to quit doing what makes them happy and needs help to continue those activities,” she said. “And there are the ones who let themselves go and are now beginning to show the symptoms of chronic disease.”
Gutwin sees her new facility as perfectly positioned to provide therapeutic exercise to those who need it as medical treatment. She says the Western medical mode is one which only reacts when something goes wrong and then performs surgery to fix it, and prescribes medication. She prefers a model which includes exercise and nutrition to prevent things from breaking down, noting that in contrast to medicine, exercise has no negative side effects.
“People who exercise are more confident and have more energy and self-esteem,” she said. “They are able to do more of what gives them joy.”
In addition to being the new Williston home of the RehabGYM and the Kid’s RehabGYM, Kismet will have a healthy eatery which will operate under independent ownership. Gutwin hopes the restaurant will provide nutritional role modeling through classes, as well as products.
She sees exercise and nutrition as two of the legs of the three-legged stool of fitness and is happy that Kismet will also provide the third leg: mental health.
The second floor of the new building, which can be seen along Route 2A, will house studio space for classes, a doctor, a nurse practitioner, and several other health care professionals. “I have more people who want to be there than we have space for,” Gutwin said. “I’ll have to make a determination on who will be the best fit.”
RehabGYM is one word because Gutwin doesn’t want rehabilitation to define the facility. In addition to physical therapists, there are athletic trainers and personal trainers, with no barrier between the groups. Gutwin hopes that having medical personnel on site will make it an even more convenient location for people. She doesn’t expect the physicians on duty to supplant existing treating physicians, but hopes that co-locating will help her clients minimize office visits and reduce health care costs.
Physical therapy is still the RehabGYM’s major source of revenue, but Gutwin sees more and more people coming in for proactive care, she said. “When you have a gym without medical fitness,” she said “there is always the chance of hurting yourself or getting discouraged by the workout. When you come to us, we can guide you in understanding what your symptoms mean and create a program that exercises you safely.”
Gutwin expects Kismet to be up and running on May 1. She is hoping the new facility will build on the RehabGYM’s formula of combining physical therapy with medical fitness. “We want fluidity of our employees so it’s clear that we’re all in this together,” she said. “We want to be a team and we want to give people a sense of belonging.”
Gutwin is passionate about what she does and has been frustrated by the control the insurance industry has over her profession. “This model has been in my mind for so long,” she said. “Now I have the chance to get it out.”
Gutwin believes her business model is one that can be replicated across the country. “Medical fitness is huge,” she said “and the big story is yet to come. Vermont should be proud that it is putting out a business that will be at the cutting edge of leadership in medical fitness.”