Veterans’ Memorial Pool confronting lifeguard shortage

Veterans' Memorial Pool confronting lifeguard shortage

The Veterans’ Memorial Pool complex is a welcome oasis from the heat this summer, one staying afloat despite a lifeguard shortage.

The city of La Grande pool complex has just eight lifeguards this summer, while during summer months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit there were typically as many as 20.

The shortage is impacting the pool’s programs, said Teresa Roberts, the city of La Grande’s aquatics superintendent.

“We have had to stop our morning swim lessons,” Roberts said.

To make up for this the pool has extended its evening lesson sessions by two hours, which now run from 3-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The lifeguard shortage also means the pool has had to curtail its recreational swim hours. Recreational swims are now offered from 1:30-3 p.m. in the indoor small pool Monday through Friday. In addition there are recreational swim sessions from 3:30-5 p.m. and 7-8:30 p.m. each Friday. In previous summers recreational swim hours were about double what they are now and the complex’s large 25-yard indoor pool was open much more.

The lack of lifeguards, Roberts said, can be traced in part to the pandemic. She explained that because the pool complex was closed for much of 2020 due to the pandemic, many of her lifeguards took other jobs and did not return.

A region-wide labor shortage, which is driving up the wages of many jobs, is also making it harder to land lifeguards. Roberts said she cannot offer wages that compete with those some other employers are paying.

Roberts could foresee a lifeguard shortage looming this winter, which inspired her to put on a pair of lifeguard training clinics to make it easier for people to get their lifeguard certification. The move is paying dividends, as six of Veterans’ Memorial Pool’s eight lifeguards earned their certification at one of the clinics.

Roberts also plans to offer more lifeguard training classes in the future, targeting members of the La Grande High School swim team. She said swim team members are excellent candidates because of their aquatic skills and enthusiasm.

“They enjoy swimming. Many have been swimming their whole lives,” she said.

Roberts added that many of the high school swimmers also have personalities that can and do serve them well as lifeguards.

Those serving as lifeguards this summer at Veterans’ Memorial Pool include Riley Weigand. She said a benefit of receiving lifeguard training is that it develops skills that can help people who want to later become swim instructors or swim coaches.

“It opens up opportunities,” Weigand said.

Roberts believes that Veterans’ Memorial Pool’s lifeguard situation will brighten in the fall when four Eastern Oregon University students who are experienced lifeguards will return. The four have traditionally worked at Veterans’ Memorial Pool during the school year.

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