Sue Field has one simple wish, to maintain independence.
At the prime age of 85, the Oakdale community member knows what it’s like to be dependent on another. Thankfully for Field and many like her, a remedy to her immobility was found in a heated pool.
Field is one of close to 75 residents from Oakdale, Riverbank, Escalon and surrounding valley cities who participate in WET (Water Exercise Together) classes each week. A class first founded in 2003 by Oak Valley Hospital, in partnership with the National Arthritis Association and Best Western Rama Inn, which provided the heated indoor pool needed for the classes. A water therapy class led three times a week, offered twice on each of those days by Cheryl Bridges, the certified instructor of the program for the past 16 years.
“I came in a wheelchair,” Field said of her first time attending the class six years ago. “My husband wheeled me in. I had back surgery and I could only take a few steps.”
Today, Field is mobile and some might say spry as ever as she takes full advantage of her independence and mobility. Yet that is now all in jeopardy as the group has recently learned the program has been terminated.
It is a finding which is both puzzling, as well as concerning to Bridges and her program attendees, as it appears to have come from nowhere.
According to the instructor she was contacted in late December by hospital staff and informed the program would be eliminated due to the recent Hospital board elections and a conflict of interest between OVHD and a hotel partnership maintained by newly elected board member Dr. Chet Mahida.
The Oakdale Leader reached out to OVHD Vice President, Administrative Services David Rodrigues for comment and was directed to Dan Cummins, OVHD Board Chairperson.
“It’s a great program,” Cummins said of the WET Program and those that it has served. Cummins went on to state maintaining the pre-existing contract with the hotel was in violation of FPPC (Fair Political Practice Commission) 1090 due to the part ownership of the property by Dr. Mahida.
“We researched this in depth well before the election,” Cummins stated, indicating the termination of the contract was brought to Mahida’s attention well before he was elected.
“We can’t tell him what to do,” Cummins continued of Mahida’s decision to proceed with the election. “All of our members want to continue this program, but we can’t break the law.”
Sources have also shared with The Leader that Mahida’s ownership in the property is minor at best. His primary income is a result of his long maintained medical practice in Oakdale.
Mahida was unavailable for comment.
The clients, however, have little concern with the politics; they just wish to maintain their wellness and mobility.
“We’re trying to figure out how to keep the class going,” Bridges said, noting the current location is the only indoor heated pool within the city limits.
We have a waiting list for this program. I rotate people in all the time,” she continued.
“It’s more serious than you might think,” Field added. “It’s not a bunch of old ladies doing aerobics in the pool.”
The women shared they both learned of the possibility for the program’s removal when it was placed on an OVHD Board meeting agenda in mid-December. A listing Cummins shared was formality, more than anything else. Cummins also shared the contract between the hospital and the hotel ended in January of this year, hence the timing of ending the program.
Yet, Bridges has another viewpoint. She shared with The Leader that the contract between the two businesses is from September to September, a fact she became most recently reminded of when she was presented with an unpaid invoice by the hotel in mid fall.
“I know this because I have the contract,” Bridges said, explaining that she was presented with an invoice of $8,000 owed by the hospital to the hotel, just before learning of the program being in jeopardy. “I’m not the middle man in all of this.
“We’re trying to figure out how to keep the program going,” the instructor shared, showing visible emotion. “My problem is, if you have to stop the class, that’s fine. Just do it the right way. Don’t take their money.”
According to both women, punch cards were sold at $40 apiece for 11 classes. Field herself purchased one as recently as last week.
“It’s okay if they’re going to reimburse them,” Bridges said of the unused cards, “but why hasn’t the hospital paid the bill in four months?”
When confronted on the timeline of the contract versus the contract date given, Cummins stated the board kept him out of the loop on certain things due to his running for re-election.
“Shortly before the election, probably within a month of the voting our CEO brought me up to speed,” he said. “What he was trying to do was prepare me.”
Cummins stated on multiple occasions the board’s commitment to finding another venue for the class, noting recognition of its importance to the members, yet limited due to the conflict.
Yet the two women and their students feel slighted, even betrayed by the hospital district as transparency in this “legal” matter seems to be lacking.
Now equipped with a laundry list of contacts, Field has taken on the task of finding a new partner to support the WET classes so that they may continue to serve those who truly need it.
“It goes from physical, to social, to eating better, doing better and them they’re a different person,” Bridges said of her clients. “They’re not coming because of me; they’re coming because it helps them. They have a motivation. They’re faithful and they come all the time.”
“Do I have the energy to make myself do other kinds of exercise?” Field questioned. “In the pool the weight is not a problem. I can run, I can walk, I can hop. On land, I can barely stand up without this program. I don’t want to quit going place and doing things.”
As of press time, there was no further conversation planned by the hospital in regards to maintaining the services of the hotel for the program. Cummins shared letters of termination of service had been signed by himself and sent to all participants of the WET Program, effective immediately.