The American Red Cross launched its lower-priced swim lessons last month. But a number of operators say the fees are still too high, while others report ongoing communication and customer service issues.
“We are sticking with Red Cross. People here are familiar with Red Cross,” said Stephanie Maver, program coordinator of aquatics and adult sports programs at the Willoughby, Ohio, Parks & Recreation Department. “[But] what are you getting for the money that you’re paying? Nothing has really changed.”
Under the new organizational structure, operators such as Maver report to a regional aquatics representative. But she and others say there aren’t enough reps to handle the overload of inquiries.
In California, Manuel Gonzalez, aquatic supervisor III for the city of Chula Vista, said it took him four months to get certification cards for the students who completed his lifeguard class in December 2011.
Operators in Arizona became so frustrated that several cities, including Phoenix and Scottsdale, have ended their affiliations with the Red Cross altogether, said Kelly Martinez, recreational coordinator 3 for the city of Phoenix.
Martinez signed on with another provider last year when she was not able to get answers from the Red Cross. Phoenix operates more than 25 pools and provides swim lessons for more than 15,000 kids.
“None of us are saving any money,” she noted. “It’s a product and service issue.”
Providers have voiced frustration with the Red Cross since last year, when the organization abruptly announced a new pricing structure and made layoffs. The biggest sticking point was the $5 per child fee for swim lessons. Under the current two-tiered policy, Red Cross learn-to-swim program providers also offering the lifeguard training course will be charged an annual fee of $300 per pool property, which covers up to 150 swim lesson students. Additional students are priced at $1 per student.
For operations that do not offer the lifeguard training, the annual fee is $350 per pool property, which covers up to 100 students. Those providers will still be charged $1 for additional students beyond what the annual fee covers.
The annual fees include learn-to-swim certificates and program marketing materials such as banners and posters (with an estimated value of at least $50). Organizations that offer other Red Cross programs have the opportunity to receive additional discounts through special incentives and credit.
As a direct result of these changes, other agencies, including Ellis & Associates and Starfish Aquatics Institute, report an increase in the number of inquiries.
“We have seen a tremendous amount of growth in the last 12 months,” said Leslie Donovan, Starfish Aquatics Institute president/CEO.
Other providers are looking at developing their own learn-to-swim programs. Some say they are staying with the Red Cross for now, but that may change in the future.
“We’re having to find thousands of dollars that we didn’t necessarily have in the first place,” said Tara Eggleston, countywide aquatics coordinator for The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “We still feel like the Red Cross program is very valuable. We don’t want to leave. But we are having a tough time swallowing the changes.”
Red Cross officials say they remain dedicated to the mission of preventing drowning and that no one should be turned away for financial reasons.
Connie Harvey, Red Cross manager of aquatics programs, reiterated her confidence in the quality of the Red Cross program, stressing the organization’s commitment to staying on the cutting edge of technology and research.
“We are communicating daily with our many, many aquatics authorized providers to ensure the delivery of high-quality Red Cross health and safety training in local communities across the nation and at military installations overseas,” Harvey said.
She noted that the Red Cross is working to fill the last few open aquatic representative positions, and that providers also can seek answers to routine questions by contacting the Training Support Center. She said the Red Cross continues to explore cost solutions.
“In addition to the high-volume providers, the Red Cross is also looking at ways to work with our smaller authorized providers, those who have a lower capacity due to a shorter season because of weather and/or facility constraints or who serve lower population areas,” Harvey said. “Authorized providers in these situations should reach out to their aquatics representative to submit a case for consideration.”