WMC compromises with users over therapeutic pool

Posted: October 11, 2013

The Winchester Star

Tony Resh, who has been using the pool for 17 years, talks about its health benefits.
Edith Lambert, 84, of Winchester, who has used the pool and the Rehab Center for nine years, voices her displeasure to fellow users about Winchester Medical Center’s original decision to close the pool for use to people who were not patients. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Therapists work with patients Thursday afternoon in the pool at the Rehab Center. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Users of Winchester Medical Center’s heated, therapeutic pool, located at 333 W. Cork St., gathered Tuesday to talk about the health benefits it provides and its closing. They are (cockwise from bottom left) Lori Kremer, 43, of Clear Brook; Bonnie Kaplan, 69, of Winchester; Tony Resh, 71, of Stephens City; George Pogharian, 76, of Gore, who accompanied his wife, Carol, 69; Margarte Lyles, 80, of Boyce; and Joan Henry, 66, of Winchester. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Everybody back into the pool.

Winchester Medical Center announced Thursday it would allow community participants to continue using the therapeutic pool at 333 W. Cork St. — for a limited number of hours a week.

The decision comes after several weeks of listening to complaints and reading angry letters from longtime users of the Rehab Center pool.

The pool users, most of them senior citizens, were upset with WMC’s decision to transfer the community program to the Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center on the WMC campus.

Hospital officials said they needed to free up more time in the Rehab Center pool for patient therapy sessions.

But on Thursday, WMC officials held out a peace offering. The Rehab Center pool will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday for open swim. No classes will be offered and no new participants will be allowed.

Previously, the pool was available to community pool users every weekday morning and evening and Saturday mornings.

“It’s wonderful,” said Mary June Williams, 70, of Frederick County, who visits the pool four days a week for 90 minutes. “Does it personally fit my schedule? No. But I will make it fit. The pool is that important.”

The $30-per-month fee that users currently pay will apply through December.

In January, hospital officials will re-evaluate the program and the budget to determine the hours and the fees. Instead of a monthly payment, participants will most likely pay by the visit.

“We are doing our best to meet the needs of our patients and the needs of our community members,” Tonya Smith, vice president of operations for WMC, said Thursday.

Not going quietly

In mid-September, the 290 community users of the Rehab Center pool received letters notifying them after Oct. 14 they would no longer be able to use the 333 W. Cork St. facility.

For the regular users of the Rehab Center pool, the letter was a cold slap. The water in the Wellness & Fitness Center pool isn’t hot enough or deep enough to ease their pain or help their mobility, they say.

Although they had resigned themselves to leaving the Rehab Center, they weren’t going quietly.

They wrote letters to WMC officials. They wrote letters to The Winchester Star. One woman wrote a letter to Bill O’Reilly of Fox News Channel. They collected more than 100 signatures on a petition.

And on Tuesday, nine of them — many using canes and walkers — gathered at the home of a fellow pool user to tell a reporter about their disappointment with WMC’s decision and to explain how much they need the pool.

“I don’t think that the community knows of the great need for a hot-water pool just for seniors,” said June Shifflett, 80, of Frederick County, who organized Tuesday’s meeting.

Not enough room for everyone

Many of the community pool users were once patients of the skilled-therapy program. Once they discovered the benefits of hot water, they asked if they could continue using the pool after their therapy ended, said Betty Hardesty, corporate director of Valley Health Rehabilitation Services.

With a doctor’s note they were able to attend classes or do exercises on their own.

But the membership of regular pool users had grown so large it was difficult to schedule patients who required therapy, Hardesty said.

Physical therapists were limited to working with patients from 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays. There was a two-week wait to get a patient in the pool.

Since there was a therapeutic pool at the Wellness & Fitness Center, it made sense to transfer the program there. There’s more parking, large locker rooms and a variety of equipment.

“We have a beautiful resource within Valley Health that community members can use,” Hardesty said.

It doesn’t meet their needs

But the Rehab Center pool users aren’t interested in the amenities and equipment of the Wellness & Fitness Center.

“I’m not even allowed to do the treadmill,” said Lori Kremer, 43, of Clear Brook.

They don’t feel comfortable at the Wellness & Fitness Center, and they don’t think the pool meets their special needs.

The Rehab Center pool has a lift chair and handrails. The water is kept at a tropical 92 degrees. The water is deep enough to come up to the shoulders of most users.

The Wellness & Fitness Center pool, on the other hand, is kept at 88 degrees and it’s not deep enough, they say.

“If you’re a 6-foot-tall man it’s only going to come up to your knees,” said Gore resident Carol Pogharian, 69, who has used the Rehab Center pool for seven years.

But Hardesty counters that the water in the Rehab Center pool is kept hotter than Arthritis Foundation requirements.

The foundation requires the water be set at no higher than 88 degrees because of the risk of heart problems. Each year the Rehab Center must apply for a variance to have its pool water hotter.

As for the complaint that the pool isn’t deep enough, Hardesty points out that the Wellness & Fitness Center pool has whirlpool jets at one end and a built-in bench. Participants can sit on the bench to have water at shoulder level.

Hardesty said she wasn’t surprised by the outcry. Her office is near the Rehab Center pool and she often hears from community pool users.

“We do appreciate their passion,” Hardesty said. “And we hope they appreciate that we have listened to them.”

— Contact Robyn Fontes Taylor at rtaylor@winchesterstar.com