By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Kellogg-Kilmer, who suffers from severe arthritis in her back, was checking her future appointments when she discovered that the OMC aquatic therapy program is slated to close for financial reasons Sept. 1.
“I am in danger of one of these days not being able to use my legs,” she told OMC commissioners at their Wednesday board meeting.
“I'm pretty shocked for those people who are in worse condition than I am.”
The heated hydrotherapy pool is located at the Olympic Medical Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation clinic at 321 N. Chambers St., within walking distance of the hospital.
It is used by 120 to 150 patients.
The next closest hydrotherapy pool is in Silverdale.
Jadie Henton of Sequim said the OMC aquatic therapy program has enabled her husband, Bill, to walk again after cancer had spread to his back.
She and others who spoke in the public comment period said William Shore Memorial Pool in Port Angeles is not a viable option because it is about 10 degrees cooler than the 94-degree hydrotherapy pool.
The OMC pool also has a treadmill, hand bars and trained physical therapy staff to help patients regain mobility.
“To close this pool would shut off healing and hope to those whose bodies already limit them,” Henton said, “and I think it would be a very sad day for this community.”
OMC Chief Executive Officer Eric Lewis said the decision to close the pool was driven by a needed $50,000 replacement of the pool liner and ongoing operating losses.
OMC has a freeze on capital spending, having lost nearly $1.4 million over the past six months, he said.
“We spend a lot of money every month maintaining the pool,” Lewis said.
“It's just every few years you have to buy a new liner, which is $50,000. But I think the ongoing monthly loss is just a big challenge for Olympic Medical Center.”
Medicare is slashing reimbursement to hospitals everywhere, and 81 percent of OMC patients are on Medicare, Medicaid or other government insurance.
“We want to get to a balanced financial situation because it's not sustainable for us to continue to lose money,” Lewis said.
Without making guarantees, Lewis and several OMC commissioners said they would revisit the decision to close the pool after hearing testimony from a half-dozen pool users.
“We'll take it under advisement,” board Chairman Jim Leskinovitch said.
He urged the audience to tell Congress “enough is enough” with Medicare cuts.
“We don't just do this blindly,” Leskinovitch said of the decision to close the pool.
“I want you to understand that. I think the big thing that prompted everything was the $50,000. We have a freeze on capital now because of the loses.”
In a June letter to aquatic therapy patients, OMC officials said the therapists and referring providers would begin to transition to land-based therapies or programs offered at William Shore Memorial Pool.
Commissioner Jean Hordyk said she has used the hydrotherapy pool and understands the challenges of aquatic therapy in a cooler public pool.
“But I also understand our financial situation, too,” she said.
“And believe me, we will do everything we can to help accommodate you. There's no guarantee, but all we can do is work at it.”
Commissioner Jim Cammack said he, too, has used the aquatic therapy pool and transitioned to William Shore Memorial Pool to rehabilitate an injured knee.
“I realize that some of you have difficulty getting into the pool up there — and the water temperature is a factor — but sometimes we have to make sacrifices,” Cammack said.
He added: “I can't make any promises, but I'll make a promise that we as board members definitely heard you tonight.”
Commissioner John Nutter said OMC lost $6 million in operations last year, including $500,000 in the physical therapy division alone.
“This isn't like we just had a bad quarter or we had a bad couple months,” Nutter said.
“This is an ongoing, 15-month decline that is only getting worse as more and more of our patients transition from well-paying commercial insurance to Medicaid.”
Nutter pledged that the board would at least take a second look at the pool decision.
Kellogg-Kilmer suggested a fundraising campaign to keep the pool doors open.
“If you could get a dollar out of every person, there would be money for the liner,” she said. “It would be worth trying.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.