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Disabled Criticize Saturdays Pool Closure

November 19, 1994|CHRISTINA LIMA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His head supported by a block of plastic, Marc Castro stared at the ceiling as his torso and legs were moved back and forth in the warm water by his father.

Castro, 24, has visited the Easter Seal pool every week since a 1990 car accident robbed him of the ability to eat, move and talk.

But today may be the last Saturday that Castro and other physically disabled swimmers are able to enjoy the only public therapy pool in the county.

Easter Seal officials said a lack of funds has forced them to close the pool on Saturdays after today.

"I am devastated," said Castro's mother, Lupe Castro. "This is the only hour and a half that he gets off the wheelchair and out of bed. This is the only time his body is free."

Like a number of other disabled county residents, Castro can only use the east Ventura pool on Saturdays.

"It takes me and his father to be able to take him out of bed and drive from Santa Paula to Ventura, where he can enjoy the pool," Lupe Castro said. "I work during the week, and by the time I get home, it's just too late to come here."

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Inez Torkelson of Ventura has used the pool on Saturdays for 18 years.

"I need this pool desperately," said Torkelson, 72. "I can't walk or do any other type of exercise besides swimming. And I need to swim at least three times a week."

Twice a week, Torkelson--who has a severe case of arthritis--manages to leave work an hour early to exercise, but she has been scheduling her third workout for Saturdays.

"This is just ridiculous. What am I supposed to do now? Leave work earlier another day? I doubt that will be possible," Torkelson said.

Other pools are too cool for her, Torkelson said.

Unlike a recreational pool, the temperature in a therapeutic pool is kept at 94 degrees, which is particularly good for people with arthritis.

The pool, part of the nationwide nonprofit Easter Seal Society, is also wheelchair accessible and is designed with several iron bars for exercises. It is open only to those with a doctor's prescription.

Ned Washburn, the pool's aquatic director, said the society depends primarily on grants and donations to raise the more than $100,000 a year needed to operate the pool. But both donations and grants have dwindled drastically in the past few years, Washburn said.

"We are not in a position to lose more money, and if we keep the pool open on Saturdays, we take the risk, in the long run, of having to close the facility," Washburn said.

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"By eliminating our Saturday hours, we are trying to make sure the whole facility has a . . . future," he said. "I do understand that people are upset, but we are trying to provide the best service we can."

Founded in 1974, the Easter Seal Society offers various programs for the disabled or developmentally delayed.

The therapy pool is an important part of the organization, offering patients various types of activities, including aerobics, exercises for lower back, laps and individual training.

There is no membership fee, but the organization charges clients $4.50 per visit. The fee, however, can be lowered or dropped for needy clients.

The pool's users, many of whom have been involved in accidents, may have exhausted their insurance coverage or lost their jobs, Washburn said.

Washburn said the society decided to close the pool Saturdays because, while it serves an average of 150 to 180 people daily on weekdays, only 15 to 25 people use the pool Saturdays during its hours of 8 a.m. to noon.

About 60 pool patrons signed a petition last week volunteering to pay an additional $2 on Saturdays for the next three months.

But Washburn said the organization cannot accept the offer, because it would clash with its goal.

"My heart bleeds for these people," Washburn said, "but that runs away from our mission statement, and that is that people who can't afford it would not be able to be here on Saturdays."

Washburn said the society hopes to raise money in the next six months and reopen the pool on Saturdays.

Meanwhile, several Saturday patrons may face tough choices in the next few months.

"I have been using the pool on Saturdays for nine years and have been able to postpone a surgery for the last seven years," said 67-year-old Francine Ek of Ventura.

Ek, who has had a hip-joint replacement and suffers from arthritis, said the Easter Seal pool is the only therapy pool in the county she can afford. Others are affiliated with therapy centers.

"I think what keeps me moving are the exercises," she said. "Otherwise I would be in a wheelchair and probably be unable to work."

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