Blue Mountain Health System's fitness center in Lehighton is closing its doors.

On Tuesday, the hospital made the official announcement that Health Works, located in the Carbon Plaza Mall for the last 10 years, will be closing on Dec. 9.

In a letter posted at Health Works, Terry Purcell, vice president of Ambulatory and Support Services, said, "It is with regret that we announce the closure of Health Works Fitness Center effective the close of business Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. Unfortunately, the financial operations of Health Works created a financial hardship for the Blue Mountain Health System.

"The health system incurred significant losses each year Health Works was in operation. We have made many attempts to improve the financial operations of the fitness center, but we were not able to cover our expenses. Effective Tuesday, Nov. 8, Health Works will no longer charge any monthly fees to use the gym. For those members who had a prepaid plan membership, your money will be refunded for the additional months that you prepaid."

Lisa Johnson, vice president of Public Relations and Marketing, said Wednesday that the decision to close was made over the weekend after the mall's landlord approached hospital officials and asked if they would be willing to opt out of their current lease because another business was interested in renting the space.

She noted that since Health Works has not been a profitable business for the hospital –it is on track to lose nearly $80,000 this year – officials decided to opt out.

"This was a difficult decision for the health system to make and we appreciate your patronage of the center," he said. "The Blue Mountain Health System is constantly striving to improve the programs and services we provide to the residents of Carbon County and the surrounding areas. The field of health care is one of constant change and the Blue Mountain Health System is no exception."

Purcell stressed that Blue Mountain Health System did not approach the landlord about closing and originally thought the gym would continue in 2012.

In an attempt to help the nearly 500 members, Purcell said that he has been talking with three area gyms about providing services and discounted rates to current Health Works members.

Purcell said in the letter, "In an effort to assist you with your fitness needs, we have contacted three area fitness centers. Jimmy's Gym located in Lehighton will offer Health Works members a 50 percent discount on an initial membership or a three-day trial pass. Palmerton Fitness Center will honor the existing member rate for Health Works members for a designated period of time. Also, another gym will be opening within the next 30 days in Lehighton Borough and will have a special offer for Health Works members."

Johnson also spoke about the New Seasons programs for seniors that are offered at Health Works. She said that both teachers have agreed that they would like to continue the program and would be willing to move to another location.

Johnson noted that the new gym that is scheduled to open has offered to provide space so senior aerobic classes can continue. A brief gap in classes would be necessary to make the transition.

She said that letters will be sent out to New Seasons members once more details are available on where classes will be held.

"We're trying to make concessions for all of the members, but particularly the seniors who utilize the gym to maintain their health," Johnson said, adding that the other gyms will also accept the hospital's cardiac rehab patients who use the gym as a steppingstone during their rehabilitation. "A lot of rehab patients use the gym as they step down. We want to make sure those patients are cared for once they leave us."

Members at Health Works were visibly torn up about the hospital's decision on Wednesday.

Patrons gathered at the front desk of the center and shared stories about a gym that was more than just a place to work out. Many said it was like a second home and the members were all a family.

Tim Kocher, manager of Health Works, said he hopes to find a place that can continue operations like Health Works has for a decade.

He thanked the members for their loyalty and support.