Albury Wodonga Health has not yet decided whether it’s worth upgrading its hydrotherapy pool, with an early repair estimate of up to $100,000.
Chief executive Leigh McJames said preliminary costings showed between $50,000 and $100,000, “a significant amount of money”, would be needed to bring the 25-year-old pool up to the required standard.
Mr McJames on Friday did not say the pool at Albury hospital wouldn’t reopen, but pointed out it was one of many competing service demands.
“At this stage the pool is closed indefinitely and no decision’s been made as to 1) what needs to be done and 2) where it sits in our priority for funding,” he said.
The chief executive said a new hydrotherapy pool was planned for Wodonga in three to five years.
“Are we going to spend a lot of money on repairing this one when there’s a new one to be built?” he asked.
User groups have been campaigning against the Albury pool’s closure, saying it denied valuable hydrotherapy to chronic pain sufferers, people in rehabilitation and those with disabilities.
Joint And Muscle support group president John McFarlane said people had been ringing regularly for the past six weeks to see if their sessions could resume.
“It definitely helps,” he said.
“Some of the people barely walk when they come into the pool and then they can walk out because their muscle joints have loosened up with the exercise and the warmth of the pool.”
Mr McJames said the situation arose because the facility didn’t meet disinfection standards.
“It’s not like a backyard pool, it operates at (about) 32 degrees and as you can imagine that’s an optimum temperature for bacteria,” he said.
“We can’t let it be used for safety reasons until those disinfection standards can be met.
“It came to our attention when it broke down and we had a look at what had to be done to make sure it could operate.”
The health service will also examine supervision arrangements after becoming aware people had sometimes used the facility unsupervised.
Albury Wodonga Health has compiled a list of other pools in the region, although Mr McJames agreed the high water temperature required did reduce options.
“It affects Albury Wodonga Health as well as the community groups and each of our areas have found alternative arrangements,” he said.
The health service said the pool received about 1200 visits a month, some from return users.
Mr McJames, standing near the new cardiac cath lab and regional cancer centre, said need existed in many health areas and funding processes had to be followed.
“We served 36,000 ED (emergency department) presentations last year and about the same in terms of admissions to the hospital,” he said.
“We’ve got to balance timing and priorities.”
Seeking answers but with no relief
The loss of a public water therapy space is literally causing people pain, according to user groups now fighting to restore the Border facility.
Albury Wodonga Health closed its hydrotherapy pool about six weeks ago to the dismay of many chronic pain sufferers and people with disabilities.
Joint And Muscle support group members have lobbied council, state and federal politicians and plan to meet with other user representatives on Monday to discuss their next step.
JAM support group pool leader Julie Ridley said the closure caught the hundreds of users unawares, with little information given to explain why.
“There was no correspondence until we phoned, we were phoning every week and asking,” she said.
“It’s important that everybody is aware of how debilitating this is to pool users.
“Warm water exercise is crucial to people who suffer chronic pain. This week’s the sixth week we’ve been without the pool, so we’re seizing up.”
Albury Wodonga Health’s Leigh McJames said the 25-year-old pool had to be shut because it didn’t comply with disinfection standards, but acknowledged the move came quickly.
“The short notice is regretted but the issue required direct action to mitigate any risk of harm,” the chief executive said.
“Unfortunately this meant consultation was not as good as it could have been.”
Water Action Group Society co-ordinator Joseph Maccioni said his members had expressed anger about the situation.
“I was getting phone calls from participants saying they were going over to the pool, showing up, the team leader was there but the pool was closed,” he said.
“There’s something that’s underhand and we don’t know anything about it.
“Taking away something that’s community based, something that everyone, like, everyone needs it.
“Because it’s done in the water, it’s not as hard on the body as it is on land.”
Ms Ridley said people came from places like Dederang, Tallangatta, Corowa, Gerogery and Holbrook to use the pool.
“The physios in Albury-Wodonga use it as well, so they have people with chronic pain and chronic conditions,” she said.
“A lot of people are trying to get off medication, that’s why they’re trying to manage their own pain through exercise.”
Albury Wodonga Health suggested alternative venues for patrons, such as Gould Swim Academy, Edge Aquatics, Murray Valley Centre or WAVES Wodonga, but Ms Ridley said hydrotherapy required water at about 34 degrees, warmer than most pools.
“Yes, there’s other heated pools around but they don’t have it to that temperature,” she said.
And talk of a new Albury Wodonga Health hydrotherapy pool in future years offered little comfort.
"Like I said to the pollies, what do we do in the meantime?” Ms Ridley asked.
Closure sends Tom on regular road trips
An East Albury man is now travelling to Wangaratta for hydrotherapy, a move forced by the unexpected closure of the pool just around the corner.
Tom Star, 26, who has cerebral palsy and uses a powered wheelchair for mobility, has attended the hydrotherapy pool at Albury hospital regularly for about eight years.
This stopped when Albury Wodonga Health closed the pool about six weeks ago, saying it did not meet the required safety standards.
Mr Star’s mother, Carmel, said she could not find another available Border pool that catered for people who needed a water wheelchair and ramp for access and had a water temperature of 34 degrees.
“I’d been ringing around trying to find somewhere to go but wasn’t successful,” she said.
“There’s no facilities to get in and out of a heated pool in Albury for someone like my son, and I think, gee, Albury’s a big place, I mean it’s ridiculous,” she said.
“Albury’s a city, a place this size should have a hydrotherapy pool.”
Joint and Muscle support group president John McFarlane said his group, along with other donors, had given about $6000 to the Albury pool over the past five years for equipment like a hoist and water wheelchair.
Ms Star said her son found his hydrotherapy sessions very beneficial.
“The pool is one place where he can get in and relax, the water takes his weight, it’s an exercise that he can actually do.
“He loves it. He’s very disappointed that he can’t go there anymore.”
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