Backed by former pool users, disability advocates and local members of the Raging Grannies, San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa urged Sutter Health to reopen their therapeutic pool in a rally on Sunday.
The pool, located at the Mills Health Center in San Mateo, is the only facility in San Mateo County with a wheelchair-accessible, heated pool meant for seniors, people with chronic pain or disabilities and others receiving therapeutic care.
The pool opened 25 years ago, backed entirely by $4 million in community funds. One year after the pool temporarily closed from COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Sutter Health announced the facility will be permanently closed to independent patrons.
"This is a company sitting on nearly $8 billion in reserves and received more than $850 million in CARES funding to combat closures related to COVID-19," Canepa stated. "It can surely afford to reopen the therapy pool. For a nonprofit, it seems to be putting profits before public health and that to me is like robbery."
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Canepa already urged Sutter to reopen in pool in a resolution passed by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in February. He also said he reached out to Sutter managers for a meeting multiple times, with no avail.
A collective of health care workers, city councils, politicians and others also banded together to form a nonprofit called Warm Water Wellness. The group has since gathered almost 5,000 signatures in a change.org petition, urging the health care provider to either reopen the pool or refund the donations it received.
The 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 is also a social community that offers mental health benefits to disabled and elderly individuals, many of whom rarely leave home. The Mickelson pool patrons and staff are a close-knit community," Warm Water Wellness wrote in its petition.
CEO of Warm Water Wellness, Lindsay Raike, calls on Sutter managers to hear their pleas to reopen the pool.
"It's truly a disgrace that senior, people with disabilities, children with special needs, pregnant women and patients recovering from surgeries have to expend their limited energy fighting for a therapy pool rather than healing in one," Raike stated.
More information on the efforts can be found on the organization's website, warmwaterwellness.org.