May 19, 2003
By Herb Brock
The Advocate Messenger
For the last five years, multiple sclerosis patients Susan Dickinson and Rose King have participated in a special aquatics therapy program at McDowell Wellness Center. The program has helped strengthen their remaining usable muscles in their battle against the progressive disease.
But the two area women recently suffered a setback in that battle because of a staffing problem that has affected the therapy program.
At least temporarily, the program will not offer the assistance they need to participate. But MS advocates have stepped forward to make sure the two women return to the pool and are launching a communitywide fund-raising campaign to that end.
At issue is the fact that the two women each need assistance while in the pool, assistance that was available when the program was staffed by a National Multiple Sclerosis Society-certified instructor, and at a time when their physical conditions were better.
When the instructor left, the person who replaced her was not NMSS-certified and was physically incapable of providing the in-the-water assistance that Dickinson and King required, especially since their conditions had deteriorated. A third MS patient in the program, Jim Powell of Harrodsburg, is able to do the water therapy without help.
All three, as members of the center, still have access to the pool but have stopped going because the therapy program has been temporarily suspended. However, other MS-related services are still being provided, such as informational sessions.
New instructor will not be allowed to provide in-the-water aid
In the meantime, the foundation that runs the center plans to find a new instructor, but that won't happen until NMSS classes for instructors are held in July. And even when the new instructor is on the job, he or she will be stationed on the side of the pool at all times and will not be allowed to provide the in-the-water assistance that the two women need.
The foundation cited liability concerns as the reason; it said funding is not an issue.
"Because the center is no longer equipped or has the adequate staff to provide individual assistance for the ladies, we have temporarily discontinued the program," said Mary Begley, spokesperson for McDowell Health. "When we get our new instructor, that person will be on the side of the pool, not only because of the center's liability concerns but also because the NMSS says that the accepted way to conduct the program is for the instructor to be on the side of the pool and that the participants must be able to take care of themselves in the water.
"We feel for the ladies and realize what a devastating disease they have. They are absolutely wonderful individuals," Begley said. "But over the last five years, we have gone above and beyond what we are set up, staff and equipment-wise, to provide.
"We are a wellness and prevention center. We aren't set up to do rehab. We have provided assistance in the water when it wasn't required of us or even recommended by the NMSS."
While the center no longer will provide in-the-water assistance for Dickinson and King, that doesn't mean they can't have assistance, Begley said.
"We want to do as much as we can do, but it is up to the individual ladies to provide their own assistance in the water. If they can provide that, that's fine with us," she said.
Powell, Kelly spearheading effort to raise money for aides
Powell and Arthur Kelly of Frankfort, who is Dickinson's father-in-law, will spearhead the effort to make sure Dickinson and King each have an aide when the program resumes.
Both men are upset at the center's decision regarding in-the-water assistance.
However, the two men are focusing their attention on raising money to pay for aides that will assist Dickinson and King in the pool. Their campaign also will involve creating greater awareness about MS in the community, as Powell noted that there are scores of people in the area who suffer from the disease and require a number of special services and programs, such as the water therapy program at McDowell.
Powell and Kirby plan to set up a non-profit corporation to raise money for the MS therapy program, including the hiring of assistants for participants, and for MS awareness programs.
"The aquatics therapy class has been of tremendous benefit to me and to Rose and Susan," said Powell. "Before they started participating in the class, there were frequent episodes of falling and of becoming fatigued just from standing for a few moments. Since taking the class, all that has changed."
While acknowledging that the conditions of his classmates have worsened, he said both can still benefit from water therapy.
"They can still delay the progress of MS. They can still improve their flexibility, balance and endurance," Powell said. "All they need is a little assistance."
And it's Powell's and Kelly's hope that their campaign will provide that assistance.
"Our main goal is to get Susan and Rose back in the pool," Kelly said.
Copyright © 2003 The Advocate Messenger