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Hollywood YMCA Responds to Protests

Facility will reopen its steam and sauna rooms for a 90-day trial period and with more staff.


After heated protests from members over a decision in late May to close saunas and steam rooms at Los Angeles-area YMCAs, the Hollywood Wilshire YMCA said it will reopen its facilities this week.

The decision does not affect the seven other YMCAs that closed their saunas and steam rooms in May, on orders from the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles. The organization, which runs Los Angeles-area Ys, had cited health and safety concerns in the wake of a recent fire that caused an estimated $1 million in damage at the Westchester YMCA.

Since the closures, hundreds of members have expressed their outrage in petitions, phone calls and letters that have been publicly posted at some Ys. YMCA officials have said that at least 100 people have canceled their memberships. Recently, a few dozen members of the Hollywood YMCA staged a protest outside the facility.

On Thursday, the 35-member board that manages the Hollywood YMCA voted unanimously to reopen its saunas and steam rooms, said the branch's executive director, Mark Dengler. Dengler then called Metropolitan YMCA President Larry Rosen to say he was supporting his board's decision. Rosen agreed, but asked that several conditions be met, Dengler said.

Starting Friday, the facilities will open for a 90-day trial period. Members who use the rooms will be limited to 10 minutes in the heat; required to take five-minute breaks between using the rooms and exercise; and urged to drink water before going in. Dengler said he will hire four employees to monitor the facilities when they are open. "They will go in and check the rooms at least every 15 minutes," he said.

Officials at other YMCA branches will be watching the Hollywood Y to see what happens, Dengler said. "We're going to be under a microscope," he said.

In three years, the Hollywood Y has had just two health-related incidents in the heated rooms: both elderly men, who felt woozy after the heat and quickly recovered, according to Dengler.

Dr. Keitha Scott, chairwoman of the Hollywood Y's board of managers, was one of those who challenged Rosen's contention in May that sauna and steam rooms provided no proven health benefits.

In a letter sent in late June to Hollywood Y members, Scott said she did her own review of the science. "My search of the medical literature has largely confirmed the beneficial effects of judicious use of saunas and steam rooms," she wrote. "It is their misuse and abuse that we must address."

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