In the pool at the Warren County Aquatic Center, Gale Manley held out two flotation devices shaped like dumbbells and pushed them slowly out to her sides and back. The exercises are designed to help her gain back some of the strength she lost spending many months in a hospital bed.

“I’ve got to get some strength,” Manley said. “I’ve got to recuperate, and this is my only hope right now.”

Manley is one of five patients undergoing aquatic therapy at the pool now that an agreement between Commonwealth Health Corp. and Warren County has been finalized. Under the agreement, CHC subsidizes the cost of keeping the pool open to the public while space is set aside for physical therapists with CHC to provide aquatic therapy. It went into effect May 13. CHC is the not-for-profit holding company of The Medical Center.

County budget cuts caused Parks and Recreation Director Chris Kummer to initially announce the pool would be closed to the public as part of about $282,000 in cuts to his department.

The aquatic center is owned by Warren County Public Schools and leased to the county. CHC now subleases a portion of the aquatic center, essentially taking over the county’s cost to keep the facility open. The corporation will pay $177,600 a year for the sublease.

The pool at the aquatic center is both cooler in temperature than the one at Bluegrass Outpatient Center and has a handicap lift to help people get into the pool, allowing CHC to serve different types of patients than it can at the outpatient center, physical therapist Sarah Coats said.

There is also more space for therapy at the aquatic center than at the outpatient center, Coats said. Up to four patients at one time can use the pool at the aquatic center.

Aquatic therapy allows people to exercise and do therapy who are prevented from doing so on land by relieving pressure on joints, she said.

“It’s really good for patients who are struggling with chronic pain,” Coats said.

It also provides good resistance when people are doing therapeutic exercises and allows them to have a full range of motion that they might not have on land, she said.

“Even just psychologically, I think it helps people,” Coats said.

When patients initially come in for aquatic therapy, an evaluation is done and individualized goals are set, she said. Those goals are evaluated every 30 days.

“Some may not need 30 days,” Coats said.

Manley has been doing aquatic therapy twice a week for about four weeks, she said.

Manley has been suffering with ulcerative colitis, which is a chronic disease of the large intestine. She spent about 6 1/2 months in the hospital last year, able to do few physical activities besides walk or use a hand bike to exercise her arms.

She now uses a walker to get around because of the strength she lost during that extended hospital stay. The amount of time she can stand is limited.

“When I leave here today, I will be so exhausted,” she said before getting into the pool to begin a therapy session Tuesday.

Aquatic therapy is already helping – she is able to move around her apartment now more easily without her walker. Manley hopes that the therapy will also help her to lose some of the weight she gained as a result of steroids prescribed to her.

Even when her therapy is complete, Manley said she wants to continue to take part in aquatic activities that have given her a freedom to move in ways that she normally can’t.

“I want to continue this for as long as I can,” she said.

Kummer said the partnership between CHC and Warren County has been successful so far.

“The pool is back on track for the time being,” he said.

Since the contract started, 42 new memberships have been sold, pool manager David Jones said.

In January through March, 1,825 adults and 368 youth came out to the pool, according to an email from Jones. An additional 597 people came for water aerobics. In April through June 2, 969 adults and 265 youth have come to the pool. In that time, 598 people came to water aerobics.

New programs including swimming lessons, water Zumba and a scuba diving class will be starting up this month, Kummer said.

Some patrons don’t like splitting the lanes of the pool with some reserved for therapy, he said.

However, without the agreement – and the lanes being split – the aquatic center wouldn’t be open to the public at all, Kummer said.

The aquatic center allows CHC to provide aquatic therapy for outpatients at The Medical Center, said Joanna Thomas, director of rehabilitation services for CHC.

“We were thrilled obviously to have this opportunity to expand our program,” she said.

Aquatic therapy services can be provided at the aquatic center from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and CHC hopes to add sessions from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays, Thomas said.

— To learn more or be evaluated for aquatic therapy, call Bluegrass Outpatient Center at 270-796-6800.

— Katie Brandenburg covers government for the Bowling Green Daily News. Follow her at twitter.com/BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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