Patients out in the cold as pool sits empty

Exercise program shut out of hospital, as Fraser Health assesses cost of repairs.

Marilyn Banford peers through the window at the empty hydrotherapy pool

The hydrotherapy pool at Peace Arch Hospital has been closed indefinitely, leaving residential-care patients without a place to take part in warm-water exercise.

Additionally, a private aquatic-exercise program operated out of the facility has been shut out of the pool, due to a “conflict of interest” according to Fraser Health.

The program, used by dozens of people from around the Semiahmoo Peninsula and beyond recovering from surgery or suffering from arthritis, offers aquatic-exercise classes three times a week, taught by a recreational therapist.

Judy Farlow, who runs the program, was informed in October that the program’s contract with Fraser Health had been terminated. Farlow – a part-time Fraser Health employee – was initially told she could not divulge the conflict of interest that led to the program’s closure, however, yesterday was told she could now speak about it publicly.

“It’s interesting that I’ve been running this program for four years with no problems,” Farlow said, noting she was curious about the timing of the pool shutting down coinciding with her contract being terminated.

According to Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell, the pool – which is nearly 30 years old – needs “significant repair” in order to be reopened.

“The pool is currently being assessed to determine the most appropriate course of action,” Blackwell said, apologizing for any inconvenience the closure has caused to residential-care patients. “This assessment will weigh the costs and benefits of reopening the pool to determine whether it is feasible.”

Regarding the private exercise program, Blackwell confirmed the contract had been recently terminated “due to a conflict of interest that cannot be resolved.”

News of the pool’s closure devastated residents who took part in the program in recent years.

South Surrey resident Marilyn Banford told Peace Arch News the program brought her hope and encouragement after suffering for several years with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, so severe she was confined to a wheelchair.

After discovering the local exercise program in the warm-water pool, Banford, 68, said she began to regain mobility and energy.

“I don’t know what I would have done without the access to the warm water pool at Peace Arch,” Banford said, noting she was “deeply saddened” to hear of its closure.

“It truly is a tragedy to close such an incredible resource to those with compromised health.”

Gail Woodside, a former instructor at the hydro-therapy pool, said the programs offered are “integral” to the recovery of patients returning to normal, active lives.

Woodside said although there are other pools offering similar programs, the small size of the PAH pool, the warm-water temperature and the atmosphere of classes are unique.

“It is very, very unfortunate the pool has been closed,” Woodside said. “It will affect so many lives, and as an advocate of healthy living, this is one more positive opportunity that is now being taken away.”

Audrey Dunkley first took part in the aquatic exercise program nine years ago, after she underwent hip-replacement surgery. She continued participating after she recovered because the warm water helped with her arthritis; Dunkley said she also found the classes a good social outlet.

Now that the pool has been closed, Dunkley is not sure where she will go.

“I may try to find somewhere else, I’m not sure yet,” she said. “It will probably be a lot further way, though.”

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