The new year has seen a few changes come to the American Red Cross aquatics program.

One that will affect most authorized providers is a different method for assessing fees for swimming programs.

Facilities will now be charged a flat fee based on projected enrollment in swimming programs. For organizations of up to 75 participants who are also part of the Red Cross lifeguard program, the fee will be $200; for 76 to 500 participants, it will be $300; for 501 to 999 participants, $650; and for 1,000 or more, the cost will be $975. Previously, each facility had been charged a certain fee plus an assessment of $1 for each participant over a given number.

American Red Cross aquatics director Connie Harvey said most facilities will end up paying a bit less this year under the new fee structure.

For the programs that will be paying more, the new fee structure is problematic. Previously, programs would negotiate fees with the Red Cross based on factors such as number of students, what kinds of programs were offered and what a program charged.

“I applaud the Red Cross for their willingness to negotiate in the past and I hope they’ll be willing to negotiate in the future,” said Jim Wheeler, recreation services manager for the City of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. Under the new fee structure, costs for providing swimming lessons in that program will triple. Wheeler said his program is one of the most affordable in the San Francisco Bay Area. “You still need to take into account what an agency charges for the program,” he said.

Part of the reason for the change was to standardize fees and service levels throughout the country. Many of the functions that those participating in Red Cross programs previously had to take care with local chapters can now be done online. These functions include submission of course records, ordering program materials and qualification cards.

As part of the changes, there have been some staff reassignments which might have caused some temporary hiccups in the services the Red Cross provides to its affiliates. One Southern California provider had this problem, but said since the reorganization was completed, it hasn’t been an issue. “They got us an aquatics specialist,” said Tim Grierson, aquatics supervisor for the City of Carson, near Los Angeles. “Once she came on, we got a lot of things resolved.”

The Red Cross has also made a few personnel reductions, but “the impact to the aquatics program has been modest,” Harvey said.

Another change involves training equipment. Previously, the Red Cross would make training equipment, such as CPR training mannequins, available for rental to its affiliates. After an analysis of the program’s cost of maintaining the equipment, the Red Cross decided to curtail the program. Harvey was confident that few programs would be affected.

“Many aquatics providers have determined that it’s easier on them to own [training mannequins] and have them on-site because of the importance of regular in-service training,” Harvey said. “When you’re talking about having four hours a month of in-service training, there’s a good chance that CPR will be integrated into that. So it’s much easier for the facilities to have the equipment there.”

The Red Cross will offer for sale to authorized providers any surplus training equipment it has.