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Hiring challenges prompt GRF to consider dropping lifeguard requirement for some pools

Aquatics Advisory Committee to discuss issue on Thursday

By Sam Richards

Staff writer

(Tuesday, March 8): Spurred by difficulty in finding enough lifeguards to fully staff Rossmoor’s three swimming pools, GRF officials are set to revive discussions about opening pools – on certain days or during certain hours – without lifeguards.

The notion, which has surfaced in Rossmoor on a number of occasions over the past several years, will be a topic of discussion at the Thursday, March 10, Aquatics Advisory Committee meeting, and is expected to be taken up in-depth by the GRF Board at one of its upcoming meetings, said Jeff Matheson, Rossmoor’s director of resident services.

The topic arose at the Feb. 24 GRF Board meeting, after CEO Tim O’Keefe gave a report about the ongoing problems in hiring enough people for certain Rossmoor jobs, most notably lifeguards and bus drivers. The shortage of bus drivers has resulted in a suspension of weekend service.

Filling these and other jobs has proven difficult for GRF managers, who are feeling the effects of the nationwide “Great Resignation” that, as of the end of December, showed nearly 11 million job openings. That number is more than 4.6 million above the total unemployment level, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The number of people leaving their jobs in recent months has brought a new term – the “quits level” – into the American lexicon.

“We have hired several part-time on-call staff,” Matheson said. “However, they are of high school age and can only work weekends. We still need several more to cover full operating hours of all pool facilities.”

Matheson also said GRF will continue to make “every effort” to recruit new lifeguards.

At the Feb. 24 GRF meeting, Director Dale Harrington asked whether it’s possible the Hillside or Dollar pools could be open without a lifeguard at times when staffing was not possible.

“We would need to post very prominent signs informing people there’s no lifeguard,” said Harrington, who contended that lifeguards need to remain assigned to the Fitness Center pools.

Such signs are present at pools at apartment complexes, health clubs, motels and other facilities that commonly don’t have lifeguards stationed.

Board member Mary Hurt asked how other active senior communities have managed similar lifeguard shortages. Matheson said communities similar to Rossmoor have taken varied approaches, ranging from making sure lifeguards are on duty during all open pool hours to having certain hours/days, or even some specific pools, going lifeguard-less.

O’Keefe told the Board on Feb. 24 that talk of lifeguard-free pool hours in Rossmoor is nothing new. “This has been discussed multiple times since I’ve been here, and I know it predates me,” O’Keefe said.

He also said that, given the current travails in finding enough lifeguards to hire, the question of lifeguards or no lifeguards “is a valid thing to revisit” at this point. He also said, “GRF Boards have generally been reluctant to do that.”

The Dollar pool has opened for the season; Matheson said that pool is open during “modified” hours in March and is supposed to transition to regular 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. operating hours starting in April. Plaster replacement work has delayed the opening of the Hillside pool.

“Full staffing,” Matheson said, means covering 14 hours a day at the Dollar and Hillside pools and 15 hours a day at the Fitness Center (Tice) pools, with a combination of full-time, part-time and part-time-on-call lifeguards.

Swimming pool operators all over the East Bay, including many cities with their municipal public pools, have had trouble filling their open lifeguard positions. And O’Keefe told the GRF Board on Feb. 24 that while Rossmoor is home to many high-level swimmers, Rossmoor lifeguards often have more challenges than do lifeguards at municipal pools because many Rossmoor residents are more physically vulnerable given their age.

“Lifeguards in Rossmoor will be put to the test,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe told the Board that pool operators are always taking a liability risk, which would figure to increase if no lifeguard is on duty. Beyond that, he said, lifeguards provide a “critical service” to Rossmoor residents.

“These are important questions, both service level and safety, that we need to evaluate, and this is probably the appropriate time to do that,” he said.

Thursday’s Aquatic Advisory Committee meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. Link to attend: (Passcode: 542946)