Paul Esselstyn participates in the supervised exercise program at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center in Springfield. The program is a multi-step approach to help pulmonary, cardiac and vascular patients develop customized exercise routines. They complete their workouts in the Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute (OHVI) gym at RiverBend, where trained medical professionals can assist if needed.

Dr Robert Stalbow

David Kuenne

Keith Andes has always been a pretty active guy, but after open-heart surgery, everything changed. 

He started to feel down. His body wasn’t working the way it used to. And his recovery was longer and harder than he’d expected. 

Eventually, his physical therapist referred him to the Supervised Exercise Program at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, where doctors and new friends cheered him on, held him accountable and helped him regain his strength.  

“The only way you can fail is not to show up,” said Andes. “And coming here has helped me, you know, pulled me out of depression. My whole outlook changes after I work out and it keeps me in good spirits all day.” 

The Supervised Exercise Program at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center is a multi-step approach to help pulmonary, cardiac and vascular patients develop customized exercise routines. They complete their workouts in the Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute (OHVI) gym at RiverBend, where trained medical professionals can assist if needed. 

“That gives patients the peace of mind that they can continue to get the regular exercise they need to improve their health and fitness,” says Aaron Harding, cardiac rehabilitation supervisor at OHVI.

Robert Stalbow, a pulmonary rehab therapist at PeaceHealth, helps people with COPD and other breathing issues find ways to manage their conditions. He’s integral to the supervised exercise program and thanks to his help, many patients said they saw “brighter futures.” 

“Our main issue right now is that Medicare essentially directs what gets reimbursed and what doesn’t. And they don’t reimburse supervised exercise,” said Stalbow. “In terms of health equity, we’re trying to support those who are on a fixed income and would benefit from continuing to build on the progress that they made here. We don’t want people to turn away because they can’t afford it.”

Stalbow supervises the exercise of many patients, some elderly, some battling terminal illness, and some unhoused. Promoting health equity is something he views as “essential.” 

“We’re looking for ways to build on the scholarship we already have,” says Robert Stalbow, a respiratory therapist at Riverbend at PeaceHealth. “It does fund a certain number of people who have financial limitations. These are people who are retirees, people who have disabilities, who are on a fixed income.”

Luckily, the Oregon Health and Vascular Institute just received a $100,000 donation to double the number of scholarships available each year, enabling 24 patients –up to 12- to continue participating in the life-changing exercise program after their insurance benefits are exhausted. The gift will allow more patients to continue rehabilitation after their insurance coverage has been exhausted. It’s already changed one woman’s life.

“I just didn’t have any money,” said Lorraine Slattery, a scholarship recipient. “They helped me out by paying every other month for me because I didn’t want to give it up.” Slattery is a patient at the institute and the donation has helped her continue her care. She says it’s helped her out during financial difficulties as she battles chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which makes breathing difficult.

Stalbow says patients on a fixed income and having a physician’s referral can qualify for the program.

“They had the pulmonary rehab and my insurance paid for that,” Slattery says. “Then, I came here because I was in the hospital and my doctor suggested pulmonary rehab. I was able to do it here. I’ve belonged to this supervised exercise program ever since.”

A regular gym might not suit some patients like Slattery who are on oxygen or have other disabilities.

Slattery says the medically supervised program involves personalized exercise routines and that it’s changed her life over the years.

“Oh yes; I wouldn’t know what I would do. I’m not going to go to a regular gym. I used to be able to walk pretty fast on a treadmill when I was going to a regular gym.”

The exercise program has improved overall health and lower risk factors for patients.

“I know I sound like a broken record here,” said Andes. “But I just feel better.” 

Those interested in helping Sacred Heart Medical Center Foundation raise the $50,000 that will unlock the additional $50,000 matching gift may contribute online to the Supervised Exercise Program Scholarship Endowment.