Bringing the Pritikin Curriculum to Life: Parkwest

Parkwest team smiles at the camera posing for a group photo in their exercise room. They are all wearing red tops and blue jeans as the photo was taken during heart month on national wear red day.
  • March 29, 2024

They may be new to teaching the Pritikin program, but this team is doing an amazing job!

A few months ago, I ventured into the Great Smoky Mountains to visit my first Intensive Cardiac Rehab account. I was full of anxious anticipation as I made my way along the scenic highway leading to Covenant Parkwest Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. When I arrived, I met Jon Dalton and his team. At the time, they were finalizing their transition from traditional cardiac rehab (CR) to Pritikin’s Intensive Cardiac Rehab (ICR). Ever since that first meeting, I’ve been amazed by this team’s collaborative dynamic.

Parkwest implementation photo - 11 people pose together smiling at the camera in an exercise room.

This group picture was taken during one of my first visits to Parkwest Medical Center.

Pictured from Left to right: Steve Gallagher, Pritikin ICR Director of Account Operations; Amy Dale, RN; Jon Dalton, Director; Savannah Roberts; Pat Cheka, RN Case Manager; Karen Kirkland, RN; Anna Duncan, EP; Eden Hall, EP; Allison Bridges, RD; Rhonda Cloinger, EP, and, Lillie Harris, Pritikin ICR Account Manager.

It takes a group dedicated to patient success and open communication to implement all the positive adjustments they’ve made to their program in the past 5 months! I recently asked them to share a bit about their experience with the Pritikin ICR program – they all had plenty to share.

The Power of Education: CR to ICR

Staff Perspective

“Education has now become an expectation, not an option.” - Karen Kirkland, RN

One of the most noticeable changes since shifting from traditional cardiac rehab to ICR is the increased emphasis on education. The team has done a fantastic job emphasizing the importance of patient attendance. As a result, patients accept that educational sessions are integral to their cardiac rehab journey. The shift from CR to ICR has made education an expectation, not an option.

“I have seen a significant increase in patient engagement since starting the Pritikin ICR. I think there are several factors that are contributing to this including friendships forming among patients as they progress through the program together, more frequent classes, and more interesting education material (both classes and written material).” – Allison Bridges, RD

The increase in patient engagement has everything to do with the way the Parkwest team presents Pritikin educational material. Their dynamic delivery of our consistently rotating workshops and Cooking School lessons leaves patients eager to attend and learn; they want the benefits offered from taking part in exercise and applying what they’ve learned in education sessions. As a result, there has been a noticeable improvement in patients' mental and physical strength.

One of the key differences between traditional cardiac rehab and intensive cardiac rehab is an increase in patient sessions (from 36 to 72). With more time for patient education, the team can both optimize their programming as well as foster stronger relationships with their patients. This in turn, has served to motivate the Cardiac Rehab team.

“Because the team is able to spend more time with each patient, I think the staff have a chance to bond with patients more now since we see them for a longer period of time and I feel there is more of a “trust” between us and them and the confidence they have in us is improved. Most don’t want to leave us which says a lot.” – Karen Kirkland, RN

Another (unintended) benefit has been the team’s improved relationships with patient care teams: cardiologists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. This is apparent in the more open and effective communication between care teams about updates in medication adjustments, additions, and follow-ups. The result? Improved patient care.

Patient Feedback

Patient responses to the curriculum changes have been overwhelmingly positive. Most attend both education and exercise sessions with a high compliance rate. It’s become common for patients to hear patients share what they’ve learned and how they plan to apply the lessons to their everyday lives.

Amy Dale, RN, recalls two patients in particular who were profoundly affected by her team’s efforts. The first graduated this past December. They came into the program barely able to move with a very flat and dulled personality. As they went through the program, the team saw them come to life both physically and mentally. The patient is enjoying their renewed joy in life and was able to return to work!

The second patient arrived at cardiac rehab hardly able to answer any questions. They had extremely limited mobility and barely qualified for the 6-minute walk test. With some encouragement from Amy and her colleagues and perseverance on the part of the patient, they have made a remarkable improvement! The patient is now able to carry on a conversation, is noticeably more alert and engaging.

A few of Parkwest’s patients had previously attended the old program and they’ve been vocal about their observations. They have all shared positive feedback about the updated curriculum noting that “classes are more interesting”. A new addition that has really made an impression on all patients has been the introduction of Cooking School. These classes are well attended; everyone enjoys the opportunity to sample the recipe of the week!

Parkwest kitchen

Common feedback is that this is a great program, with a lot of information, patients love the nutritional components, especially the cooking classes. They talk about the meal plans and the recommendations for certain changes. And the fact that this is not a diet but healthier choices for eating. They bring in different purchases and want to run it by Allison. - Respiratory Therapist, Shelly Lutker-Hendee


 The Team

A smiling picture of John DaltonIt’s clear that the folks on this team appreciate the strengths and skills of their coworkers. Many have been with Parkwest for years and were comfortable with their traditional cardiac rehab program. Jon Dalton (pictured right) did an excellent job supporting his team through their transition to intensive cardiac rehab.

He listened to his team’s concerns, spent time planning and preemptively solving issues throughout the process. An engaged leader championing the program shift makes a world of a difference. That said, a leader is only as effective as his team, and Jon’s group is second to none. We asked the team to share a bit about any of their coworkers who are doing an exceptional job, and they shared the following.


As part of the shift to ICR, RD Allison Bridges’ role expanded, in addition to her other responsibilities, she now leads cooking workshops. It’s been a big adjustment, but she’s proven more than up for the task! As her coworker, Rhonda Cloinger shared, “Allison has done a great job organizing and preparing the menus for the cooking class”.

 Allison Bridges, RD in her Cooking School Kitchen

Allison Bridges, RD in her Cooking School Kitchen


Anna Duncan, EP, has taken on more responsibility including assisting Pat Cheka, RN Case Manager, with insurance verification for patients as well as teaching the Pritikin healthy mindset and exercise workshops alongside Eden Hall, EP. Her co-workers have noticed her confidence has grown in the past few months. She does an exceptional job at connecting with patients and responding to them respectfully and professionally.

Coworkers remark on how much patients love Karen Kirkland; she makes patients feel comfortable by listening to their stories. As she walks the floor, she can often be found asking patients various questions so that, little by little, she can build relationships and emphasize how much she cares about them as individuals. Through the process, she can build up their self-esteem while earning their trust.

After a few months of using the Pritikin curriculum, Parkwest has proven they offer a model ICR program. Jon and his team are excited to share the Pritikin program with three other Covenant locations across eastern Tennessee. For our part, we are honored to be a part of their continued improvement and expansion of the Pritikin ICR program!

Keep up the great work, Parkwest!

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Whether at the long-standing Pritikin Longevity Center or one of our many licensed ICR facilities nationwide, Pritikin is making life-changing impacts on thousands of lives, every day.  Hear directly from providers and patients as you learn more about our decades-long history and our continued message of healing and hope.