With the Northern Berkshire YMCA, it’s a problem of leadership

As reported here on April 25 the Northern Berkshire YMCA in North Adams is putting the healthy and safety of its members and staff at risk. Given what’s transpired since, there is little reason to believe real change is around the corner.

The problems:

  • There are no phones or emergency buttons  in any of the locker rooms that would allow a YMCA member to get help in the event of a medical emergency in a timely manner. This means, Mr. Ihne and the YMCA’s board, headed by board president David Brown, are telling families that if their children are using the boys or girls locker room and something goes wrong: a fall, a seizure, some other medical emergency, they better have a cell phone on them, stay in emotional control, and call 911, or, as Mr. Ihne said in an April 17 letter to me, they can yell for the lifeguard (who very likely would not be able to hear them).
  • After the United States Department of Justice inspected city-owned buildings for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) violations,  a  2012  settlement was reached. Since the April 25 piece the family locker room has been upgraded to ADA standards and grab bars have been put in half of the men’s shower area. Steps in the right direction. However, neither Mr. Ihne or Mr. Brown will say when grab bars will be put up in the other shower areas and the bathroom stalls throughout the building. They’ve been asked repeatedly.
  • And, as reported here on April 25, an individual took suddenly ill at the YMCA early one weekday morning losing control of his bowels in the pool area and in the locker room area. When YMCA members the next day noticed the area had at best been damped mop but was clearly not cleaned and disinfected, Mr. Ihne and Mr. Brown refused to say what protocol had been followed. Mr. Ihne declared a protocol had been followed but as of this writing, refuses to tell members what the protocol was. Given that the badly sick individual took ill in the pool area all locker rooms as well as the pool area should have been cleaned and disinfected.

If you thought the fact the city owned the building would prompt the city to take action, think again. Mayor Richard Alcombright has said he has great faith in Justin Ihne, the YMCA’s executive director and a major part of the problem.  Councilwoman Nancy Bullet said it is an internal matter. The office of State Senator Ben Dowling has, to its credit, been attentive to the situation.

Mr. Ihne and Councilwoman Jennifer Breen are in a league of their own. When Mr. Ihne (as well as the council members, Mr. Brown and others) were sent two  pictures (see below) of the entrance to the men’s sauna, only inches from where some of the man’s fecal matter had been discharged, pictures taken after Mr. Ihne said the area had been cleaned, Mr. Ihne at first denied the sauna entrance was anywhere near the problem. When he was told he was wrong, that those of us who were there saw the fecal matter right in front of the sauna door, Mr. Ihne responded with a burst of stellar leadership and announced he was blocking this advocate’s emails. However, Mr. Ihne was thoroughly outdone when it comes to outlandish and, frankly, childish responses, by Councilwoman Breen. She signaled her concern for the health and safety of the Y’s members and staff by asking not to be included in the email discussion. When asked why she did run for office if things like this didn’t concern her, she responded by sending me an email praising Mr.Ihne and calling me names. I’m told this kind of behavior is not out of character for Ms. Breen.

Here are the pictures of the entrance to the men’s sauna taken after the so-called clean-up.

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With the Northern Berkshire YMCA, it’s a problem of leadership

As reported here on April 25 the Northern Berkshire YMCA in North Adams is putting the healthy and safety of its members and staff at risk. Given what’s transpired since, there is little reason to believe real change is around the corner.

The problems:

  • There are no phones or emergency buttons  in any of the locker rooms that would allow a YMCA member to get help in the event of a medical emergency in a timely manner. This means, Mr. Ihne and the YMCA’s board, headed by board president David Brown, are telling families that if their children are using the boys or girls locker room and something goes wrong: a fall, a seizure, some other medical emergency, they better have a cell phone on them, stay in emotional control, and call 911, or, as Mr. Ihne said in an April 17 letter to me, they can yell for the lifeguard (who very likely would not be able to hear them).
  • After the United States Department of Justice inspected city-owned buildings for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) violations,  a  2012  settlement was reached. Since the April 25 piece the family locker room has been upgraded to ADA standards and grab bars have been put in half of the men’s shower area. Steps in the right direction. However, neither Mr. Ihne or Mr. Brown will say when grab bars will be put up in the other shower areas and the bathroom stalls throughout the building. They’ve been asked repeatedly.
  • And, as reported here on April 25, an individual took suddenly ill at the YMCA early one weekday morning losing control of his bowels in the pool area and in the locker room area. When YMCA members the next day noticed the area had at best been damped mop but was clearly not cleaned and disinfected, Mr. Ihne and Mr. Brown refused to say what protocol had been followed. Mr. Ihne declared a protocol had been followed but as of this writing, refuses to tell members what the protocol was. Given that the badly sick individual took ill in the pool area all locker rooms as well as the pool area should have been cleaned and disinfected.

If you thought the fact the city owned the building would prompt the city to take action, think again. Mayor Richard Alcombright has said he has great faith in Justin Ihne, the YMCA’s executive director and a major part of the problem.  Councilwoman Nancy Bullet said it is an internal matter. The office of State Senator Ben Dowling has, to its credit, been attentive to the situation.

Mr. Ihne and Councilwoman Jennifer Breen are in a league of their own. When Mr. Ihne (as well as the council members, Mr. Brown and others) were sent two  pictures (see below) of the entrance to the men’s sauna, only inches from where some of the man’s fecal matter had been discharged, pictures taken after Mr. Ihne said the area had been cleaned, Mr. Ihne at first denied the sauna entrance was anywhere near the problem. When he was told he was wrong, that those of us who were there saw the fecal matter right in front of the sauna door, Mr. Ihne responded with a burst of stellar leadership and announced he was blocking this advocate’s emails. However, Mr. Ihne was thoroughly outdone when it comes to outlandish and, frankly, childish responses, by Councilwoman Breen. She signaled her concern for the health and safety of the Y’s members and staff by asking not to be included in the email discussion. When asked why she did run for office if things like this didn’t concern her, she responded by sending me an email praising Mr.Ihne and calling me names. I’m told this kind of behavior is not out of character for Ms. Breen.

Here are the pictures of the entrance to the men’s sauna taken after the so-called clean-up.

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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.

Once more into the deep!

I’ve been afraid of the water since I was a little boy. Actually, to be more precise, I’ve been afraid of the deep water since I was a little boy. I’d ask the same question when, as a family, we’d be approaching a pool, lake, river. Is it over my head? And no, I’ve not forgotten oceans.  Never mind  oceans. I know all about undertows and know they’d drag me to my doom.  Forget oceans.

My fear had nothing to do with my ability to swim. I was a fairly decent swimmer as long as I knew I could touch the bottom with my feet. The moment I couldn’t, panic set in.

My fear of the deep water has always been with me.

Looking back. Both sets of grandparents lived in New Jersey. My father’s folks lived in Ocean Grove and my mother’s lived in Rumson. Both lived near the water. In fact, my mother’s parents lived right on the water. They had a couple of boats and, hanging off the end of the dock, was a minnow trap. One of my  chores was retrieve the minnow trap every morning. One morning I fell in. I must’ve been about five or six I suppose. The water was green and I was terrified flailing and then a strong hand grabbed me and pulled me to safety. My father had saved my life. It wouldn’t be the last time, either. Although he had died long before I got shot, there is no way I would’ve got back to my feet had it not been for my father’s presence in that moment with me.

Anyway, falling in, as you might imagine, did nothing to erode my fear. My next attempt at taking on the fear occurred when we were all at a public pool. It occurred to me that if I tossed in a kick board and swam to it, and then swam back holding on to it without touching the bottom of the pool, I could work my way from the shallow end to the deep end.  This is exactly what I did. Over and over I’d toss the board into the center of the pool, swim to it, hold onto it, and swim back. I made it all the way to the deep end and then, in an act that amazed even me, I jumped off the diving board into the pool and swam like hell to the side of the pool. When I got back to where my family was they applauded. They’d been watching.

Still, my fear of the deep water persisted.

Which brings me to the present. I moved to my new home in Berkshire County, Massachusetts a few months ago. I then got a membership in the YMCA. I knew, when I did so, that I was going to give swimming another go. It is unquestionably the best all around exercise there is and there is no doubt exercise benefits all areas of life.

September fifth was my first time in the pool. I swam one lap. I got out and sat in the sauna. The sauna, as far as I’m concerned, is the pot of gold at the end of the workout rainbow. The second time I went into the pool was on the fifteenth. I swam five laps. I began to increase the number of times I swam weekly and soon made sure to be there when the pool opened at 6 a.m. It was not lost on me that the man who swam  to my left every morning is going to celebrate his 77th birthday this February. He swims 36 laps every morning, one mile to be exact. The woman who swims to my right every morning swims in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 laps. She is 86. The man who swims to her right swims a mile every morning, he’s 70. You picking up on a theme here?

Anyway, I’ve been keeping at it. I now swim a mile every time I go to the pool, which is about five times a week.

Oh, and one more thing, the fear is gone. The only way to overcome fear is to head in its direction. Sometimes, you just have to swim there.

Breaking Hills Redux

Back in 2003 I began training for my first lengthy bicycle ride, a 175-mile trek from where I was shot in Brooklyn to Albany. I live in a very hilly area so I began thinking of a motivational term I could link to the challenge of reaching the top of a steep and, at times, lengthy climbs.  Finally I decided on breaking hills. Breaking the hill meant defeating the climb, taking the challenge and pushing through it no matter how grueling.

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I am back on the bike breaking hills and loving every minute of it. Perhaps a recent reduction in coffee intake,  which brought about a nice drop in anxiety levels, helped me rediscover the joy of getting back on a bike and going for it. Then too, there has always been something about taking on a physical challenge, getting back in touch with my body, that I’ve found emotionally and spiritually healing.

Many years ago, around 1986 I’d guess, after nearly a year in seclusion, I began  going to the 23rd Street YMCA actually named the McBurney YMCA with my friend Dane.  The nine-story McBurney YMCA was built in 1869. When Dane and I went I’d play racquet ball, diving all over the court with a somewhat manic little boy joy. I was genuinely saddened when I learned the YMCA closed its doors there and reopened on 14th Street. I find it hard to believe that the Michael Bloomberg era of money first tradition last had nothing to do with creating the atmosphere that led to the building conversion to a bunch of condominiums in 2004. 

Later, in 1991 I ran my first marathon and from 1991 to 1995 tacked on five more.

At any rate, the spiritual glory of breaking hills is on me again. Recently a man in Long Island asked me if I was planning to do any more lengthy bike rides. I did the 175 mile ride  in 2003 and a 1,000 mile ride in 2004. I surprised myself when, without pausing, I said, “Yeah, why not?”

And I meant it.

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