The 2022 outdoor pool season started with a splash. Specifically, a splash from NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue as she jumped into the Hamilton Fish Pool on the Lower East Side. Donoghue was joined by local kids and community members on June 28 for a festive celebration to commemorate the start of one of New Yorker’s favorite summer activities. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Senator Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Carlina Rivera were also in attendance.
“Our pools are popular summer destinations for so many New Yorkers, and we’re happy to provide these free places to have fun, cool off on hot days, and get some exercise,” said Donoghue in a press release following the celebration. The city’s public pools will be open daily until September 11 from 11: 00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Including Hamilton Fish, NYC Parks manages fifty-three outdoor pools throughout the city’s five boroughs. The Tony Dapolito Pool and Harlem Meer Center (formerly Lasker Pool) in Central Park will both be closed this summer due to ongoing reconstruction projects. As they have done in the past, the city’s public pools will provide free sunscreen dispensers and partner with the Department of Education to offer free lunches at specific pool centers across the city. The meals are available to any New Yorker eighteen and under.
But as pools open, the city has been forced to take a step back in swim programming because of a national lifeguard shortage. On June 14th, NYC Parks announced due to staffing issues, the city’s public pools would be dropping free swim lessons along with lap swim, water aerobics, and day camps.
National Labor Shortage
The lifeguard shortage is connected to the national labor shortage brought on by COVID-19. The pandemic hit lifeguards particularly hard as pools were forced to shut down, training programs ended, and certifications couldn’t be renewed. In many cities, pools have cut down on hours or left swimming areas unattended. About a third of the nation’s pools are at risk of closing entirely due to a lack of staff, according to the American Lifeguard Association.
The announcement from NYC Parks marked the second year in the row the city has been forced to cut its free swim programs due to limited lifeguard numbers.
NYC Parks doesn’t anticipate any long-term pool closures due to staffing this summer. They will adjust pool operations daily according to the number of lifeguards available and will only open pools when adequate lifeguard coverage is met. They will also continue to certify lifeguards.
“Safety is our top priority,” said Megan Moriarty, a press officer for NYC Parks. “It’s because of this that we prioritize access to the millions who visit our pools annually rather than redirecting recourses to ancillary programming.” Their goal is to provide as much swimming access to the public as possible.
In an appearance on NY1’s “Mornings On 1” on June 15, Mayor Eric Adams promised to fully examine the issue and work with the city to seek out creative solutions. “I’m going to reach out to Parks and figure out how we can continue the instruction. We have to have young people learn how to swim,” said Adams.
Adams has also promised to review the city’s regulations around the lifeguarding hiring process which has recently come under scrutiny for exacerbating the shortage of guards. The nonprofit news organization The City recently reported that officials at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) have been rejecting waiver requests from first responders and paramedics to take over lifeguarding shifts based on a thirty-year-old rule. The regulation prohibits city employees from doing double duty to cut back on overtime hours.
“In an effort to mitigate excessive overtime costs, the city has adopted a policy that restricts dual employment when both employers are mayoral agencies, in titles covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act,” a DCAS spokesperson told The City.
Mismanagement within the lifeguard division of the Parks Department has been an ongoing area of concern that recently prompted a probe by the Department of Investigation. The resulting 20-page report released in December 2021 laid out thirteen recommendations to “correct deficiencies in the management and operation of the Lifeguard Division.” New York City’s beaches and pools have opened for the 2022 summer season with the suggested reforms yet to be fully implemented.
As the city works on solutions to staffing shortages and addresses management concerns, public pools will continue to serve as an invaluable community resource. “New Yorkers in every corner of this city again have a place to go to have fun, cool off, and stay healthy during the hot summer months,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine in a press release. “Jump in!”
To find a public pool near you check out https://www.nycgovparks.org/facilities/outdoor-pools or Cool It! NYC https://www.nycgovparks.org/about/health-and-safety-guide/cool-it-nyc), an initiative by NYC Parks which shows where cooling features like pools, spray showers and drinking fountains are located around the city.
If you’re interested in applying for a lifeguard position visit https://www.nycgovparks.org/opportunities/jobs/lifeguards.
“I’m going to reach out to Parks and figure out how we can continue the instruction. We have to have young people learn how to swim.” Mayor Eric Adams