By Matthew Abrey
For many Kelowna residents with permanent or long-term ailments and disabilities, the therapeutic pool at Kelowna General Hospital provides relief and comfort they otherwise cannot find on dry land.
However, for many, access to the therapeutic pool will soon be cut off.
Kelowna General Hospital is limiting use of the therapeutic pool to those who are in line for, or recently recovering from joint replacement surgeries. The pool had, until recently, been closed for months due to restructuring and reorganization.
Lova Witier is just one of many who is getting the boot from the pool. The 77-year-old has had two hip replacements, a fractured femur, arthritis in her knees, and is dependant on a walker. She relies on her semi-weekly visits to the pool to ease the wide range of pain she deals with every single day.
“They called and said that now that the pool was open again, they had changed things and they were going to call everybody in who was using the pool for an assessment,” says Witier.
“They basically recommended that we go elsewhere for rehab, because they could no longer give us the service, except for those with acute pain. Well, I don’t know how much more acute I could possibly be, unless I was permanently in a wheelchair.”
Current pool-users also have an issue with how these crucial assessments were conducted.
“We were told to come in after it reopened and get an hour-long assessment, but when we went in, it wasn’t really a medical assessment,” says Witier.
“Nobody asked you how you felt, what you could or couldn’t do, or even asked you to perform tasks to see what you could do. They just sat you down on a bed, and told us that from now on, you need to phone H2O or the Parkinson Rec Centre and find out what they offer.”
Witier explained that this simply wasn’t possible, because many of the people who use the KGH facility do not or cannot swim. Regular public swimming pools don’t have parallel bars, or anything to hold onto in the pool, and all it would take would be one missed step for many of the users to be looking at yet another surgery.
The KGH facility boasts a pool deck that raises and lowers as necessary to accommodate those who use canes, walkers and wheelchairs.
“The pool deck comes up and I’m able to transfer from my wheelchair to a chair… then the pool floor goes down to a level and I can challenge myself to walk,” says Christa Akins, who is focusing on regaining strength after an accident left her partially paralyzed nearly a year ago.
Akins also added that the temperature is 35 C, warm enough to stop her muscles from seizing.
Frequent users have also been told that part of the reason for the restructuring is the over-crowding of the pool.
However, according to the regulars, there is almost never more than about 12 people in the pool, which is not even close to becoming crowded.
“Most of the people I talk to go to the pool twice a week for half an hour,” says Witiak. “That’s it… it costs about $4.50 every time we go in, but pretty much everybody would pay more if it was a question of budget, but they say no no, the pool is too busy with inpatients.”
When asked for comment, Donna Jansons, director of Allied Health, said, “The therapy pool at Kelowna General Hospital is undergoing scheduling and programming changes to better assist patients who require the pool for acute therapeutic services and healing following a surgery or injury… as a result, some patients who have had previous access to the pool for exercise or maintenance programs are being offered an assessment by a physiotherapist and an appropriate short-term (six week) program at the pool before transitioning to a community pool in Kelowna for exercise programs. To date, there are approximately 50 patients who have accepted this offer and the feedback received about their transition to community pool or service has been positive.”
Last week, Akins started a petition which at last count, had garnered upwards of 100 signatures. She’s planning to bring the petition to meetings she’s set up with the mayor, MLAs and onward. Letters have also been sent to Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, as well as Premier John Horgan.
“This is not right,” says Akins. “There are a lot of people who are suffering that have no way of getting into another pool without handrails or parallel bars. It needs to change.”
To learn more about her petition, contact Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org.