Aquatic therapy pools closing down, in spite of benefits to patients

After knee and hip replacement surgery, Mary Buck needs a cane to get around, but sheâ??s seen vast improvement in her mobility thanks to a special type of physical therapy.

"I can't walk that far any more... Maybe a half a block but I get in a pool, I can walk maybe 10 minutes back and forth just continuous."

Mary Buck is among thousands of patients who have benefitted from aquatic therapy. Depending on the type of ailment and treatment, a trained physical therapist can put a patient through a series of exercises and movements to help him or her recover in ways that land-based therapy may not. Suzanne Skibinski owns West Side Physical Therapy, which specializes in aquatic therapy.

"Because of the buoyancy, you can tolerate the activities in the water that they couldn't tolerate on land,â?? Skibinski says.

Though the benefits of aquatic therapy are well established, itâ??s becoming less available to patients in Central New York. These specially-equipped, heated pools have been gradually closing down for the past several years.

"It's survival at this point. I did a quick count. Of the 10 pools I could count that were in business 4 years ago, half of them are either in the process of closing, closed or have spoken with a practice owner who is considering closing in the next couple of months,â?? Skibinski says.

Skibinski herself has closed down the pool at her practice on Bridge Street in East Syracuse. The pool at her Solvay location remains in operation. Skibinski says there are several reasons for the dwindling number of aquatic therapy pools.

"A pool this size which is only 16 by 20. Our average utility bill here to heat it with electric is between 16-hundred and $2000.00 per month."

She also says insurance companies are cutting back.

"With changes in insurance re-imbursements and the ability for patients to access our service because of high co-pays and deductibles, they're not able to come in and they can't afford our care and we can't keep it running."

Mary Buck thinks the pools should remain open.

"I don't understand I just don't understand. Who makes these rules? There's research that says it works."

Complicating matters is a situation that took place last August at the Institute for Human Performance. It's run by Upstate Medical University. The Aquatic Therapy pool here sustained a mechanical failure and it's been shut down for the past 8 months."

In an email, a spokesperson explained that there were â??Problems with the mechanics that raise and lower the pool floor. Parts needed to repair the pool floor are no longer made. The cost to make necessary repairs to the existing pool may be as much as $500,000 dollars.â??

Upstate is currently deciding what to do about fixing the aquatic therapy pool. If and when it does reopen, there may be no shortage of patients ready to jump in the water in hopes of feeling better.