YMCA adds therapy pool

December 13, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

It's a wet wonder. At the Martinsville YMCA aquatic rehabilitation pool, physical therapy patients now can strengthen their muscles, rehabilitate that sprained ankle or soothe that aching back.

Thanks to a grant of $384,639 from The Harvest Foundation, the YMCA branch on Starling Avenue opened its newly-built pool last week.

Additionally, the YMCA hired certified health therapist Julie Huls to administer the program and work with patients enrolled in therapy.

Aquatic therapy is a therapeutic method doctors frequently advise for patients with injuries requiring reduced stress and impact during rehabilitation, said Huls.

Already taking advantage of the water treatment, Charles Hagwood of Bassett stepped out of the pool Wednesday and grabbed his crutch to compensate for a noticeable limp.

Hagwood injured his foot in a lawn mower accident in July. The accident cut nerves and tendons in his foot, leaving it partially deadened and severely reducing flexibility, said his wife, Gwen.

On Wednesday, during his initial session with Huls, Hagwood worked in the 93-degree pool, going through 30 minutes of exercises designed to stretch and strengthen those damaged ligaments, nerves and muscles, he said.

Asked about the benefits of the pool, Hagwood laughed and said, "I was able to put my weight on the foot. I can't do it now."

That's because standing in water chest high reduces a person's body weight by about 80 percent, making aquatic therapy great for a person requiring reduced stress, Huls said.

The warmth of the water relaxes muscles, Huls added, allowing for greater range of motion with less pain. And water also provides natural resistance to strengthen muscles, and hydrostatic pressure aids blood circulation.

The pool is even equipped with a lift chair to accommodate wheelchair patients, Huls said.

YMCA Director David DePriest said the staff and board of directors recognized the need for the therapy pool about five years ago. "We've been in this building for 14 years and the aquatic exercise classes have grown tremendously. But we could never keep the pool at the right temperature for everyone," he said.

People nursing injuries or chronic pain wanted the water warm; water-aerobic enthusiasts wanted the water less warm; and competitive swimmers wanted the water relatively cool, he said.

After visiting a few private facilities in the region with a therapy pool, the YMCA wrote a grant to The Harvest Foundation, which the foundation awarded, said DePriest.

The addition of the pool is a cutting-edge amenity for a YMCA. "We are the only ones with a therapy pool that I know of," said DePriest.

Even before the pool opened, Huls had a waiting list of 24 people wishing to enroll, she said.

Patients accepted into the program must be insured and referred by a physician through a medical prescription, she added.

Insurance providers who recognized the program are Anthem and Medicare, said Huls. She is working on setting up agreements with Cigna, Aetna and Medicaid, among others.

Huls bills the insurers $100 for an initial evaluation and $35 for each 15-minute workout.

In time, the YMCA foresees opening the service for private enrollment; expanding its hours of operation, now from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and adding a second therapist, said DePriest.


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