Presumably they won't be pushing Slim-Fast as the path to good health, but the Mayo Clinic has received a donation from the founder of the diet drinks to build a wellness facility aimed specifically at patients.

For Mayo, which operates two wellness facilities for employees, the move is a significant step into the wellness world, because it moves beyond treating and managing diseases, said Dr. Patricia Barrier, Mayo's medical director of disease prevention and health promotion.

"What this facility will do is allow a patient to have an intense and comprehensive look at health risk and conditions, and custom-tailor a program that they'll experience for two or three days, or more," she said.

People with certain illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease, will work with specialists on such areas as nutrition, fitness, sleep and stress reduction. Healthy people at risk for disease will also be able to work with specialists to try to avoid future illnesses. Coaches will help patients stay on track through weekly chats or online check-ins.

"It's one thing if you just give people information," Barrier said. "Another thing can happen if you give people experiences. A third happens if you continue to connect with people."

Mayo kept the amount of the donation confidential, but it's the third gift to the Rochester facility from Dan Abraham, who started Slim-Fast International in 1977 and sold it to Unilever in 2000. Abraham is a longtime patient.

His latest gift will add four floors to the four-story Mayo Clinic Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center, a $22 million facility that opened in 2007 for Mayo employees and their families.

The expansion, which also will be used for research and development, is expected to be completed in two to three years. Barrier couldn't estimate a construction cost.

The new facility will continue to operate separately from the employee center, which contains exercise machines, an indoor track, two swimming pools, a demo kitchen for classes on healthy cooking, and a child-care center.

Abraham funded another employee wellness center at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, which Mayo operates.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335