Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Therapy Pool Story - In Which I Interview Cyril Miller

At The New Pool:
(Back): Laura Mathers,
Diane Tice, Ron Bryant;
(Front): Cyril Miller.
An Interview with Cyril Miller:
The therapy pool at Puget Sound VA Healthcare System is now open and it's beautiful. Actually, it’s two pools: one at 92 degrees for people like me and one at 85 degrees for MS and PTSD patients. They can do kayaking in there. We have a lift to accommodate spinal cord injury patients and bariatric patients. We have roll-in showers to accommodate handicapped patients. In the same building there’s an Advanced Physical Therapy Room. To put this in the tool box of the VA was mind boggling, but it took lot of work by a lot of people - both veterans and friends of veterans – a lot of people.
About 7 years ago, after I had my kidney transplant, they told me “aquatic therapy” would be one of the best ways to do rehab. My renal specialist, Dr. Rodrigues, put the request in but it was kicked back because the pool was not available. So I went to the director, Stan Johnson, and I asked how come.
He said, "Mr. Miller, the pool's seven years beyond its pull date. It's been leaking profusely. It's like a canal down in in the basement any time they fill it, so we had to pull the plug."
I said, "Well, what about aquatic therapy?”
He said. "Well, now we have no aquatic therapy program. Mr. Miller, I have $19 million with which to run this hospital. That's it. I do not have money to repair the pool."
So I said, "So what about aquatic therapy?"
He said, "We will just have to do without."
I said, "We got all these people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, limb loss, bariatric patients, PTSD patients, MS patients, who are in need of this particular therapy, and tell me you don't have the money?"
He said, "I don't have the money"
I said, "Well, suppose we go out and raise the money. Would you accept it?"
He said, "I certainly would."
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There Is No Pool
Like An Old Pool
The board of directors of Veterans and Friends of Puget Sound talked it over:
Tom O'Keefe, the founder of Tully's Coffee, Diane Tice, Co-founder of the Pacific Institute, Meredith Tall, the CEO of the Victoria Clipper, my sister the Reverend Zelda Kennedy, Senior Associate Pastor of All Saints in Pasadena, Evan Hundley, Head of School at Explorer West, Debbe Harata, the voice actress, and others.
They agreed this was an important project, but we needed to do our research. Director Johnson set up a meeting with VA Facilities Management, who gave us the price of $950,000 to repair the pool as is. He helped us get the Corps of Engineers report on the building and future plans, plus all kinds of meetings with the people who would be using it - spinal cord injury, occupational therapy, physical therapy, recreational therapy. We asked for information and they gave it to us; because we were private citizens, we were free to say what they could not, "Tell us what is needed; we're getting the money."
Seattle is the flagship hospital for VISN 20, which serves Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, parts of Wyoming and part of northern California. I went to the League of Women Voters Guide and counted 45 federal elected officials in the area that this hospital services.  We wrote to them all (see letter next page).
Skip Dreps, former director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America association here at the hospital, was an ally. He got us on the docket for the Seattle City Council and the King County Council. We went before both Councils and asked them to help us by writing to our elected officials that they were behind this program.
The State of Washington Department of Veterans Affairs got involved, and also Governor Christine Gregoire. The PI and the Seattle Times ran stories; Comcast did an interview; all kinds of business and community leaders joined in and started talking to their senators and representatives.
There isn’t room to list everyone who got involved, but Jim McDermott, Representative for the Seattle area, was the first to come on board. He's a Navy veteran, a military psychiatrist, and he's always supported veterans. Senator Murray became the Chair of the Senate Veterans Committee, so I had quite a few sessions with her chief of staff, Joshua Jacobs. With Norm Dicks on the House Appropriations Committee, they got 12 million dollars for the pool, a Polytrauma Clinic and an exercise room in the same building.
After that, it took five years to build the pool. In the meantime we needed a program for veterans who couldn't wait 5 years to come and dip their toes in the water. After some pushing, a program got going down at Evergreen Pool twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, serving 16 and 18 veterans at a time, and the VA provided therapists. When the county announced it was closing Evergreen, I went before the Seattle City Council and Richard McIver got me an opportunity to talk to the Parks Department. They moved us to Westside.
I have to tell you from day 1 those guys at Westside met us with open arms. They made accommodations for us. If you want to see how efficient operations run, you have to see the two ladies who are running that program. They made room for us for 3 years, and I was really sad to leave them. 
Do you see how it got done? Congress got us the money for the pool and the rest, but first we, the people, had to go and tell them to do it. We had to get a lot of people, find out the facts, talk over what we wanted, and ask and ask and ask again until we won.
We won because every 2 years, 4 years or 6 years, the politicians re-apply for their jobs. That's called an election. Veterans and our friends have to get together; there are millions of us and if we want improvements then it's up to us. We don’t have to accept anything less that the best for our veterans, because public officials work for us. However, we cannot get them to act by standing on our own. You have to work together. You got to have a team.
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How To Take Action Yourself
If you liked the story about getting politicians to get us the pool, why not try it yourself when you see that our veterans need something? The procedure is simple, although it takes time and effort.

Step One: Do Your Research; Include Everybody
We talked with a lot of people to figure out what was needed; the first idea (just refurbish the pool) was not a good idea. There were a lot of other needs that surfaced once everyone started talking.

Step Two: Write The Ask Letter
Our basic “Ask Letter” included ideas from people throughout our network. The heading was automated so we could generate a lot of letters from our list of public officials.
_________________________________
July 30, 2008
SALUTATION FIRST NAME LAST NAME
ORGANIZATION AND ADDRESS
CITY, STATE ZIP
Dear SALUTATION LAST NAME:
This letter addresses the severe effects of the closure of the therapeutic pool at Seattle’s VA Medical Center, a division of the regional VA Puget Sound Health Care System.  The therapeutic pool, used by thousands of veterans since being installed in 1983 by Chester Pool Systems, was permanently closed in May 2007.  Prior to its final closure, the therapeutic pool was temporarily shutdown several times for periods exceeding six months due to leakage problems and being a decade beyond its replacement timeline.
VA doctors prescribe aquatic therapy, conducted in the therapeutic pool, for patients from VA Medical Units including Spinal Cord Injury, Rehabilitation, and Mental Health Services.  Aquatic therapy is critical for patients experiencing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), neurological disorders, cardiopulmonary/respiratory diseases, strokes, and recovery after loss of limb and joint replacement surgery.  Aquatic therapy rehabilitates a patient’s muscle tone, motor coordination, strength, endurance and movement in upper and lower extremities.
Veterans and Friends of Puget Sound is a nonprofit veteran’s advocacy organization created to educate concerned citizens and government agencies of the urgent need to provide resources for our veterans and their families in appreciation for their continued sacrifices in service to our country.  Our organization became involved with communicating the need to replace the VA’s therapeutic pool upon learning that its replacement is considered a low priority that will not be addressed for a number of years.
Our veterans need help now, not several years from now.  The therapeutic pool is vital to rehabilitating hundreds of veterans in the five states served by the VA Puget Sound Health Care System: Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska.  The therapeutic pool project includes structural seismic retrofitting, a stainless steel base with tile overlay, overhead tracks with lifts, and enlargement of the locker and shower facilities for handicapped accessibility.
You can make a difference by assisting in educating our federal officials about this severe deficiency in essential medical care for our veterans.  We look forward to working with you in solving this critical need.  Thank you very much.
Sincerely,
Cyril Miller
Chair
Veterans and Friends of Puget Sound

Step Three: Make Your Ask List
We put every federal politician in VISN 20, plus the closest county and city officials, on our ask list. Here’s the first page; yours may be different.
Organization
Salutation
First
Last Name
Address
City
City of Seattle
Mayor
Gregory
Nickels
P.O. Box 94749
Seattle
Seattle CC
Council President
Richard
Conlin
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
Seattle CC
Councilmember
Tim
Burgess
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
Seattle CC
Councilmember
Sally
Clark
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
Seattle CC
Councilmember
Jan
Drago
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
Seattle CC
Councilmember
Jean
Godden
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
Seattle CC
Councilmember
Bruce
Harrell
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
Seattle CC
Councilmember
Nick
Licata
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
Seattle CC
Councilmember
Richard
McIver
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
Seattle CC
Councilmember
Tim
Rasmussen
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle
King Cty
Executive
Ron
Sims
701 Fifth Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Councilmember
Bob
Ferguson
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Councilmember
Larry
Gossett
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Councilmember
Kathy
Lambert
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Councilmember
Larry
Phillips
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Council Chair
Julia
Patterson
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Councilmember
Jane
Hague
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Councilmember
Peter
von Reichbauer
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Councilmember
Dow
Constantine
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
King Cty
Council V.Chair
Reagan
Dunn
516 Third Ave.
Seattle
Washington
Governor
Christine
Gregoire
P.O. Box 40002
Olympia
U.S. Senate
Senator
Patty
Murray
915 Second Ave.
Seattle
U.S. Senate
Senator
Maria
Cantwell
915 Second Ave.
Seattle
U.S. House
Representative
Jay
Inslee
18560 First Ave. NE
Shoreline
U.S. House
Representative
Rick
Larsen
2930 Wetmore Ave.
Everett
U.S. House
Representative
Brian
Baird
750 Anderson St.
Vancouver
U.S. House
Representative
Doc
Hastings
2715 St. Andrews
Pasco
U.S. House
Representative
Cathy
McMorris Rogers
10 North Post
Spokane
U.S. House
Representative
Norm
Dicks
1019 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma
U.S. House
Representative
Jim
McDermott
1809 Seventh Ave.
Seattle
U.S. House
Representative
Dave
Reichert
2737 78th Ave. SE
MercerIsland
U.S. House
Representative
Adam
Smith
3600 PortofTacoma
Tacoma


Step Three: Send One To The Other. 
Then keep talking. It worked!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic job on your efforts to bring this medical resource to the veterans! Thank you for being a bulldog so that many more people could benefit from this therapy that will help so much. Are there any more success stories like this?

Richard Cypher | http://www.swim-fitness.com/learn/swim-spa-benefits/

Spencer James said...

This is an superb example of the community in action! A lot of people don't realize that their voices can truly be heard and that they can make a change. It is surprising how open politicians actually are to their constituents and how much they are willing to help. It also sounds like therapy pools are vital for a lot of forms of recovery, I was not aware of that. Thanks for going out there and making a difference in your community. I am sure there are hundreds of beneficiaries to your work, veterans and citizens alike who swim in these pools to benefit them in their recovery.
Spencer James | www.swim-fitness.com/learn/swim-spa-benefits/

Spencer James said...

This is an superb example of the community in action! A lot of people don't realize that their voices can truly be heard and that they can make a change. It is surprising how open politicians actually are to their constituents and how much they are willing to help. It also sounds like therapy pools are vital for a lot of forms of recovery, I was not aware of that. Thanks for going out there and making a difference in your community. I am sure there are hundreds of beneficiaries to your work, veterans and citizens alike who swim in these pools to benefit them in their recovery.
Spencer James | www.swim-fitness.com/learn/swim-spa-benefits/

Jessie Vera said...

I loved this article and the therapy pool story your shared. It is very heart warming and inspirational. Thank you for sharing how we can take action ourselves. I have seen a huge improvement in my brother since he started using therapy pools for his MS.


Jessie | http://www.swim-fitness.com/learn/swim-spa-benefits/