Questions raised about Kelowna General Hospital limiting the use of its therapeutic pool

“It really gives me hope,” says woman who was paralyzed in a cycling accident last year.

It’s been nearly a year since Christa Akins was struck by an SUV while cycling down Cawston Avenue’s multi-use pathway.

“I was on my way home and a green SUV turned out of the alley and hit me,” she said. “Now I’m paralyzed and in a wheelchair… in five weeks it will be a year since I’ve walked.”

Akins was always active. She was featured in a cycling magazine and had completed the Ride to Conquer Cancer in Seattle before the July 5, 2017 incident that left her without use of her legs and she’s determined to walk again, spinal injury or not.

To build the strength needed to reach that goal, she said, Kelowna General Hospital’s therapeutic pool has been indispensable.

“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,” she said, adding that the temperature is 35 C, warm enough to stop her muscles from seizing.

If the water level is chest height, she can walk. If it drops an inch below her chest, “gravity sets in” and she buckles, as she would on land.

“It really gives me hope. It keeps my brain engaged and my muscles working,” she said. “I can do things in the water that I can not do out of the water.”

That hope, however, may be taken away.

Kelowna General Hospital is limiting use of the therapeutic pool—which has already been closed for months—to those who are in line for or recently recovering from joint replacement surgeries of varying kinds.

“Their excuse is that the community took up so much pool space that there’s no longer space for inpatients to use the pool,” she said.

“In the 11 months I’ve used it I’ve not once waited. It was not once overfilled. Another woman who has used it for 30 years was not once turned away for too much use.”

That said, an acquaintance of Akin’s pays for a membership at the Y to use the pool for therapeutic purposes and she’s been turned away due to capacity issues a number of times.

“I need medical support, I don’t need to play in the water,” she said. “There’s a pool therapist at the pool that help with floats and exercises … you don’t have that in a public pool.”

It’s not just patients who are paralyzed who are feeling the loss.

“There are people who have ALS … There is one lady who was walking with a cane and since the pool closed, she’s back in a wheelchair,” said Akins.

“Another guy has said he was down to 10 pain pills a day with pool use, and since it’s been closed he’s back up to 19… the medication is a bandaid and the pool is a solution.”

Lova Hope Witiak wrote the Capital News this week and said since she’s lost access to the pool she’s suffered greatly.

“I have had two hip replacements, sustained two fractures, as well as two arthritic knees and spine. This exercise facility has given me better enjoyment of old age at 77 years old,” she said. “I cannot walk without my walker. Can anyone convince the Kelowna General Hospital rehab pool to reconsider cutting services to seniors with limited mobility so we can enjoy our golden years with less pain?”

Akins said it should be a no brainer.

“It’s a community funded pool paid by our health dollars that all working people pay into,” she said. “It should be used by people who feel better using it.”

On Saturday Akins started a petition and it’s already garnered 100 signatures. In a week, she’s going to bring them to meetings she’s set up with the mayor, MLAs and onward.

“This is not right,” she said. “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 positivedifference@shaw.ca.

Interior Health has yet to respond to questions.

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