Cone Health unveiled a $1.5 million heart and lung rehab center Tuesday morning that's designed to meet a projected 40 percent increase in patient caseloads in the next decade.

The Leonard J. Kaplan Heart and Pulmonary Rehab, at 1331 N. Elm St., will help patients through recovery from heart attacks, valve replacement surgery, pulmonary fibrosis and other heart and lung ailments.

When asked about the reasons for the projected increase in the need for rehabilitation, Cone Health medical director Tracy Turner said that Greensboro’s Baby Boomer population is now reaching the age at which they are becoming more prone to cardiovascular diseases. 

Turner also referenced Cone Health's goal to close the life expectancy gap in east Greensboro, which is five years below other parts of the city. The company has already started an initiative that brings mobile health units, which provide treatment from healthcare workers and screenings for high blood pressure.

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“In some of our underserved populations where they don’t have access to healthy foods or have financial difficulty with healthy eating, that population is at a much higher risk,” Turner said. “They also don’t have as much access to healthcare in general so they may not be seeing doctors on a regular basis to get screening.”

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan spoke at the event and praised Cone Health for its work in improving healthcare in east Greensboro, where residents historically have suffered from a lack of service.

“There truly is a partnership between the city of Greensboro and Cone Healthcare,” Vaughan said at the event. “What this space does truly is healthcare. I’m grateful that Cone Health is investing in underserved areas in our community. They are meeting people where they are in east Greensboro.”

The rehab center is 11,000 square feet — double the size of Cone Health’s cardiopulmonary rehabilitation unit at its hospital across the street. The new Kaplan center contains exercise machines, a demonstration kitchen, and a relaxation studio for the facility’s focus on improving mental health.

The center is named after Leonard Kaplan, a Greensboro businessman and philanthropist who was a driving force in the creation of the Moses Cone Cardiac Unit.

In 1979, Kaplan, his close friend Dr. Jerry Ruskin, other physicians and nursing staff created Greensboro’s first cardiac rehab program inside a local YMCA.

Contemporary “cardiac rehabilitation” began in an era when bed rest and physical inactivity were recommended and commonplace, according to a 2022 peer-reviewed article in the National Library of Medicine. By contrast, Greensboro’s cardiac rehab program at the YMCA allowed patients to exercise and work on improving their health.

In 2016, Cone Health named its hospital cardiac unit after Kaplan. Patients at the facility walk, peddle stationary bikes, learn how to improve their diets, and lift weights in the ground-floor gym.

The new heart and pulmonary rehab center will give patients the same opportunities, in addition to newer components such as a teaching kitchen and a meditation room. The teaching kitchen allows patients to learn about nutritional foods and practice making them, while the meditation room gives them space to improve their mental health.

At the new facility, staff provided examples of “heart-healthy” foods such as beets with feta cheese and honey, yogurt with edamame, and fruit parfait.

Ruskin, who attended Tuesday morning’s event, said he was impressed with the new facility and that it was a “world apart” from what they had started back then.

Leonard Kaplan’s son Randall Kaplan spoke at the event and said that the new facility fulfilled his father’s dream of “repairing the world.” Randall Kaplan, a former chairman of UNCG’s Board of Trustees, donated $1 million to the effort.

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