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Here’s to your ‘healthtel’: 8 wellness hotels

TODAY Travel Editor Peter Greenberg takes a look at the latest
/ Source: TODAY contributor

What do the president of Iraq and your grandmother have in common? In a growing number of cases, it's a continuing concern and focus, not just on the quality of their own life, but in the state of their own health as well.  And where do they go to get thoroughly checked out?

Welcome to the world of the wellness hotel — or the "healthtel" — a destination with a dual purpose: a resort as well as a full health maintenance facility. And, if necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then wellness hotels is a concept that easily fits that definition.

Increased wait-times for appointments, consumer-choice insurance plans and self-referrals have all contributed to this medical travel trend in the U.S. 

One hotel in Rochester, Minn. — with a historic yet visionary approach to catering to the needs of patients and their families — is setting the pace by offering this “healthtel” experience.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is a great example of the rise of domestic and international medical travel.  Nearly 100,000 patients travel more than 120 miles each year to the famed healthcare institution.  The phenomenon traces back to the 1920s, when patients took trains all the way from Mexico to the Southeastern Minnesota city.  When the Clinic began assigning tracking numbers to its patients, “No. 1” was from Canada (patients are now in the six millions).  And these days, the patients who travel to the Mayo Clinic from New York, Los Angeles and everywhere in between have created a medical tourism boom in Rochester and contribute to the trend nationally.

With physician referrals on the rise and many taking their health care into their own hands, patients are willing to travel for better care, expedited appointments and multi-specialty care.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average length of hospital stay in the U.S. is 4.8 days.

Enter the "healthtel."  In Rochester, it's  The Kahler Grand Hotel -- which has been around since 1921 — and  offers a variety of unique services and amenities aimed at making Mayo Clinic patients comfortable while they get healthy.

On a given day at the Kahler Grand Hotel, you'd meet:

1. The President of Iraq - The President of Iraq recently stayed for three weeks while he got a complete physical at the Mayo Clinic and consulted with them regarding weight loss; the staff prepared suites in the International Hotel (within the Kahler complex) for the President and his entourage, including special requests.

2. Two grandparents from Des Moines, who drove there on a doctor's referral to visit the Mayo Clinic for a variety of procedures and well-care, (they come  at the same time every year).

3. A Platinum-Selling, Grammy Award-winning rockstar - A-list celebrities are there almost every week.

4. A family of seven from Minneapolis  who came to stay for an extended period while their father  received life-saving treatment.

5. A Corporate CEO from Beverly Hills,  who comes in annually for an exhaustive two-day work-up through Mayo's Executive Health Program.

6. Ms. Williams, a guest since 1979 — she's been staying at the hotel every night for almost 20 years; having just celebrated her 100th birthday, she chose to live at the Kahler grand after her Mayo Clinic physician said she should live as close as possible to her medical facility of choice — you can't get any closer than the Kahler!

In the early 1900s, the Mayo brothers approached John Henry Kahler and asked him to build and operate hotel facilities to serve the needs of visiting patients and their families. In 1921, Kahler built the Kahler Grand Hotel. The property’s innovative design and approach to hospitality boasted a 220-room hotel, 150-bed convalescent unit, a 210-bed hospital and operating suites for oral, plastic and general surgery. Over the years, the Kahler Grand Hotel housed a dormitory for nursing students, a colonoscopy ward and birthing suites. The Kahler Hotels have evolved throughout the years to meet the diverse needs of patients and visitors, but Kahler’s dedication to top-notch service, excellence and first-class hospitality is still alive.

The “healthtel” offers medical concierge services, an all-in-one building dedicated to meeting the special needs of patients and their families, and patient rates from $79 to $139 per night with free parking.

Need help arranging or getting to an appointment?  No problem.  The personal concierge service will assist in setting appointments and escorting patients and their families to appointments at the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, a medical supply store and pharmacy are located on site and will deliver prescriptions and medical supplies directly to a patient’s guestroom.

The “Right Choice” menu, created by Mayo dietitians and Kahler chefs, offers healthy alternatives for guests with dietary restrictions or those preparing for tests.  This and other special menu items are available in the Grand Grill or through Kahler’s 24-hour in-room dining service.  Additionally, the Kahler Grand servers are very adept at guiding guests with meal selections in advance of procedures or tests.

But the Kahler Grand is just one of a number of special "healthtels" throughout the U.S.

In California, outside Los Angeles in Westlake Village, tucked inside the Santa Monica Mountain Foothills, you'll find the Four Seasons Hotel. But this isn't just any luxury four seasons. Because attached to  the hotel is the California Health and Longevity Institute, Inc., where doctors work with you one on one to deal with “nutrition, stress, biochemistry, genetics, fitness, spiritual health and diagnostics in one place.” Plus cosmetic dentistry, dermatology skin care, and even DNA testing! The Institute and Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village covers more than 20 acres of ground. Visit or call 888-575-1114

Executive physicals are three-day packages that include the most comprehensive preventive-care offered in the industry.  They also offer diagnostic lab screenings that target men’s or women’s health challenges as well as age, family history, and other risk factors. A team of professionals, including a physician, dietitian, exercise physiologist, and LifeAdvisor, help create a personalized healthy-living program that targets your needs. The executive physical costs $5,260.

In Dallas, you'll find the Cooper Aerobics Center and Lodge. Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, known for coining the word “aerobics” in 1968 when he published his first best seller Aerobics, has been a key figure in popularizing the preventative medicine movement. He is 76 and still sees patients to this day. He opened the Cooper Aerobics Center in 1970 in Dallas, and the center prides itself in promoting a “fast-track approach to optimal health.” If you’re serious about rejuvenation, fitness, good health, and want to leave their live-in facility with positive lifestyle improvements, this is the place for you.

The center is located on a 30-acre estate in Dallas and treats their patients with attentive, Southern hospitality. Located on the property is the Cooper Guest Lodge—a 62-room colonial style hotel, a day spa, gymnasium, exercise facilities, clinic, and even a long-term residential community,

The Center offers, and recommends, a six- or 14-day program, but they do offer shorter, 4-day courses. The 4-day course provides fitness essentials and will help you jumpstart a new routine for your lifestyle. Their staff will help you with your goals, whether they are to lose weight, manage stress, or gain control over cholesterol or blood pressure problems.

The center also has an optional Cooper Clinic medical evaluation, which is a comprehensive, preventive exam. Once a detailed report is written, a physician and exercise physiologist will develop a fitness prescription catering to your needs. If you have had a recent exam or are healthy, you may choose to receive the fitness assessment.

The 6-Day Wellness Retreat costs $2,895 and includes a physical fitness assessment, workshops—such as fitness and exercise, stress management, nutrition, strategies for behavior change, and maximizing natural immunity—two personal training sessions, presentations by Dr. Kenneth Cooper and/or Medical Director Dr. Tedd Mitchell, three nutritious gourmet meals each day, healthy snacks, two cooking classes, stress management techniques, etc.

The 13-Day Wellness Retreat costs $4795, and it includes an additional week of wellness training and motivational support, more consultations with a wellness counselor, four personal training sessions, and a chance to repeat or concentrate on your specific goals, like weight loss or stress management.

The Guest Lodge hotel, located on the Cooper Aerobics Center grounds, offers the following rates:

Standard Room  Single:   $149 a night          Double: $159 a night               One Bedroom Suite  Single: $225 a night       Double: $235 a night

In Arizona, near Tucson is where you'll find the Canyon Ranch Resort. Yes, it's got a well known spa and cooking classes. but there's also exercise physiology, nutrition,  and medical services.

The Canyon Ranch Health Resort  has physicians, acupuncturists, behavioral therapists, chiropractors, dermatologists, exercise physiologists, healing touch practitioners, movement and aquatic therapists, nutritionists, physical therapists, and podiatrists. The Canyon Ranch team has trained at Harvard, NYU, Stanford, and other highly noted learning centers.

Another Canyon Ranch location in Massachusetts — in Lenox — has board-certified physicians who specialize in integrated health: acupuncturist, herbalists, behavioral health therapists, exercise physiologists, healing energy practitioners, movement and aquatic therapists, naturopathic doctors, neuromuscular therapists, and nutritionists.

Their Peak Performance program is at least 4 nights long and offers state-of-the-art testing and training equipment along with professional medical, nutritional, exercise physiology and fitness staff. You will consult with a physician who will evaluate your physical condition and potential, a nutritionist who helps you choose energy foods, an exercise physiologist who will help you create a successful training plan, and a behavioral specialist who will show you the factors help or hinder your play. The program also includes performance enhancement or hypnotherapy sessions, laboratory testing, and a 50-minute sports medicine consultation. The package offers options in these areas: tennis, golf, biking, swimming, triathlon, and running. Costs for the packages: tennis is $2,480; golf is $3,080;

The BioPhysical250 blood test program offers a blood test that measures more than 250 biomarkers with a single blood draw. Biomarkers are chemicals found in the blood, and their levels are altered by disease or other medical conditions. For example, glucose and cholesterol are well-known biomarkers of diabetes and cardiovascular risk. The Biophysical250 includes biomarkers that test for cardiovascular disease, cancer, immunity, and hormonal and gastrointestinal conditions. By identifying possible biomarkers, physicians can prioritize treatment, take preventive measures, and address conditions before they become health problems. The cost is $3,400 for 75 minutes.

And there are other wellness/healthtels around the country:

Serenity Aftercare Facility, Santa Monica
Opened in October 2000. It’s a post-operative center that offers medical care in a “retreat-style hotel.” 24-hour services include certified nursing assistants, licensed massage therapists. You get a chauffeured ride to and from the doctor’s office, with the highest level of privacy and discretion. 310-586-0740 ext 2800,

The Wellness Institute at Boyne Highlands Resort, MichiganGet a full medical exam with same-day test results. After your exam, partake in golf, skiing or a therapeutic massage at the Boyne Highlands Resort. Corporate rates for medical services, hotel stays and activities available.  231-526-7773,

Alive Resort, British ColumbiaFull wellness resort with exercise programs, traditional spa treatments, nutritional coaches, Aveda Medi Spa for detox, hydro therapy and deprivation tank along, and one-on-one coaching (with 6 weeks of follow-up). 888.763.4744,

And now, some important advice and cautions:

1. These are not to be considered getaways for hypochondriacs. You go because you want a thorough physical checkup and you want to relax at the same time. or..

2. You go because of a particular medical need and want to relax at the same time,  or

3. You have a close loved one who is going for reasons one or two, and you want to be with them (this explains why so many families travel  to these wellness hotels.)

4. Expense: you don't have to stay in the VIP suites with your secret service contingent to make this a worthwhile experience. budget accordingly. and last but not least, if you're going to go to the effort and expense of a full medical readout of your own wellbeing, listen to the doctors. it's  not  just the quality of  the care you receive from the staff during your stay, it's the care you give yourself with the medical and lifestyle information you now have on yourself when you return home that makes the real difference.

Peter Greenberg is TODAY’s travel editor. His column appears weekly on Visit his Web site at .