Northern Berkshire YMCA risking lives of members – including children

The sudden onset of illness in a YMCA lifeguard this morning underscored the dangerous  safety policy the Northern Berkshire YMCA uses and has no intention of changing, according to its executive director, Justin Ihne and board president, David Brown.

Located in North Adams, the YMCA has five locker rooms, none of which have emergency buttons or phones in the event of a medical emergency. Two of the locker rooms are for children. When  Ihne was asked what members, including the children, should do in the event of a medical emergency in the locker rooms, he said he expects them to use their cell phones or go get a lifeguard – except, of course, if the lifeguard is sick, or the pool is closed.

In an April 17 letter to this writer, Ihne said, “…if members do have issues they can yell to a lifeguard who in fact is the best person for first responding. But also everyone having cellphones, 911 can easily be called alternatively.”

When told of this situation through an email to his work site (Ihne refused to  provide  this writer (a YMCA member) a list of board members and contact information) , YMCA board president David Brown  responded by saying his employees were bothered by the email being sent to his work site, he was on vacation, and perhaps we could meet and talk about it when he returned in a couple of weeks from vacation.  Brown went on to say the entire safety situation was not a matter for the board.

Just when you think things can’t get more unsettling, Joe McGovern, executive director of the Northern Berkshire United Way and former executive director of the Northern Berkshire YMCA, was perfectly comfortable with the YMCA’s safety policy. So was North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright  who said, “I am certain Mr. Ihne has displayed the highest levels of care for the “Y” and all patrons.”  The YMCA building is owned by the city

In the April 17 letter Ihne claimed the Y’s safety plan is “mimicked by other YMCAs” and used by “many YMCAs throughout the commonwealth and the country.”  When I wrote to Ihne asking him to name the YMCAs in the commonwealth and country he was referring to, he did not respond.

I checked in with some other YMCAs and have yet to find one that mimics the Northern

Berkshire YMCA.

  • The Pittsfield YMCA has phones in their locker rooms so members can reach the front desk or call 911.
  • The YMCA of Central Massachusetts reports that all three  of their YMCAs have phones in the locker rooms able to reach the front desk and 911 in the event of an emergency.
  • The Downtown Springfield YMCA has both emergency buttons and phones in their lockers rooms in case of an emergency.
  • The Bradenton YMCA in Manatee County, Florida has push button alarms throughout the building so wherever you are an emergency button is nearby

And so on…

It seems the facts don’t matter to Ihne, Brown, McGovern or the mayor.

  • When it was pointed out that all members don’t have cell phones, it didn’t make a difference to them.
  • When it was pointed out that they were applying their you’re-on-your-own safety policy to children, it didn’t make a difference.
  • When it was pointed out the North Adams Hospital had closed  and, for now, the nearest emergency room was 25 miles away, it didn’t make a difference.
  • When it was pointed out that getting the lifeguard would waste a lot of time since the lifeguard would have to clear and secure the pool before he or she could respond and then, once on the scene, would have to find a phone to call 911, it didn’t make a difference.
  • When it was pointed out that the medical community calls the first hour after the onset of a medical emergency the golden hour because getting emergency medical care in the first hour improves the chance of a positive outcome, it didn’t make a difference.

As if this weren’t enough of a problem, the Y’s attempt to bring itself into ADA compliance, it was cited in a 2012 settlement between the United States Department of Justice and the City of North Adams is moving along sluggishly at best.  Despite repeated requests for a time when grab bars will  be installed in the showers and bathroom stalls, neither Ihne nor Brown will provide one. When this writer sent the Y’s leadership a website documenting the reasonable cost of grab bars, they did not response.

One might wonder, I know I did, why the Y’s leadership has no intention of improving the safety standards  why it expresses its  callous and, frankly, dangerous position so brazenly. Now, I can’t read the mind of another person, but part of the answer may rest in the following two places.

  1. YMCA of the USA spokesperson said there is no  national YMCA that oversees all Y’s around the country. There are YMCA corporate Y’s that oversee a cluster of Y’s  and then there are the independent YMCAs that are answerable to no one but their own board of directors.  The Northern Berkshire YMCA is an independent Y. To make matters worse, sources say all applications for the Northern Berkshire YMCA must go directly through Ihne, so its no wonder he has, thus far, been able to act with impunity – or so it seems.
  2. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

It seems to me, Ihne, Brown, McGovern and Alcombright are each having their character tested. So far, all four are failing miserably, failing the members , the staff, and – worst of all – the children.

One thought on “Northern Berkshire YMCA risking lives of members – including children

  1. Seems the Wayne,NJ YMCA is now experiencing how Justin Ihne operates. So happy I searched his name and found he indeed has a past. Now how can we keep the children, their families and the staff of the Wayne YMCA safe. What a disappointment our new director has proven to be.


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