By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Recently, members of the Athens-Limestone Wellness Center received a letter informing them that the pools would be closed permanently as of the end of this year, and this has created no small amount of understandable stir. Letters of protest have landed on the desks of all the major news organizations, and a comb-back book full of requests, petitions and testimonies was prepared entitled, Information and Requests Concerning Pools at Wellness Center Athens-Limestone Hospital.
The purpose of this special feature is to ask questions and look for solutions, not to create division. It is hoped that the Board of Huntsville Hospital will at the very least issue a “stay of execution” while the situation is examined by the community and a way can be found to keep the pools open that works for everyone.
It has been stated that the pools need between $250,000 and $300,000 of repairs and are woefully underused. Regular attendees of the Wellness Center feel that the number of pool users is being under reported. While the Athens-Limestone Hospital writes off millions of dollars of bad debt each year due to people not paying their hospital bills, it seems that as a preventative measure the money that would not have to be spent because of the therapeutic aspects of the pools could serve to justify keeping it open. I have read the letters and testimonies of people who are dependent upon the pool for exercise and therapy, are unable to drive to Madison or elsewhere to receive comparable therapy or exercise possibilities. They are cogent, reasonable, and ring true.
Two questions emerge: Why was the pool allowed to get to a place of disrepair. What can we as a community do to save it? Everyone understands that the pool is essentially private property and belongs to the Huntsville Hospital system. It is not inherently the purview of the Limestone County Commission or the City of Athens to intervene. That being said, it would seem that there would be financial options that are viable that could be utilized to keep the pool open. Corporations may have money that needs to be moved before December 31. Grants could be explored and pursued. Perhaps some type of crowd sourcing could be utilized. Could swimming lessons be offered more aggressively to help offset the cost of repairs and maintenance? Would local banks and financial institutions be willing to pool together for a low-interest loan or to form some kind of co-op? What manner of good stewardship needs to emerge to solve the problem?
The Wellness Center was opened in the late ‘90s because it had been proven that prevention costs way less than medical treatment, a center such as the one we have serves to strengthen communities, and people who have very specific health demands are not able to have their needs met with any other venue, near or far. We need to be civil, we need to offer possible solutions and not just complain, and we need to be persistent about looking for a way to “preserve the pools.” Surely in this season of giving such a way can be found.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner