By Olivia Wynkoop. Bay City News.
Backed by former pool users, advocates for people with disabilities and local Raging Grannies members, San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa urged Sutter Health to reopen its therapy pool at a rally Sunday.
The pool, located at Mills Health Center in San Mateo, is the only facility in San Mateo County with a wheelchair-accessible heated pool for seniors, people with chronic pain or disabilities and others receiving therapeutic care.
The pool opened 25 years ago, supported entirely by $4 million in community funds. A year after the pool temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Sutter Health announced that the facility will be permanently closed to independent patrons.
"This is a company that has nearly $8 billion in reserves and received more than $850 million in CARES funding to combat COVID-19-related closures," Canepa said. "Surely it can afford to reopen the therapy group. For a non-profit organization, it seems to put profit before public health and that to me feels like theft."
Canepa already urged Sutter to reopen the pool in a resolution passed by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in February. He also said he contacted Sutter's managers for a meeting several times, to no avail.
A collective of health care workers, city councils, politicians and others also joined together to form a nonprofit organization called Warm Water Wellness. The group has since gathered nearly 5,000 signatures on a change.org petition, urging the health care provider to reopen the pool or reimburse the donations it received.
Pool users in the group argue that the pool was meant to be for the community, not for privatized practice, and that it helped them avoid surgeries, acute medical care and relocation to assisted living facilities.
"It's not just a place for physical rehabilitation; it's also a social community that offers mental health benefits to disabled and elderly people, many of whom rarely leave the house. The clients and staff at Mickelson's pool are a close-knit community," Warm Water Wellness wrote in its petition.
Warm Water Wellness executive director Lindsay Raike asked Sutter's managers to listen to her pleas to reopen the pool.
"It's really a shame that seniors, people with disabilities, children with special needs, pregnant women and patients recovering from surgeries have to spend their limited energy fighting for a therapy group instead of healing in one," Raike said.
More information about the efforts can be found on the organization's website, warmwaterwellness.org.
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