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Yes, gym pools need lifeguards, health officials say, citing a death

Updated June 13, 2024 - 6:51 pm

The Southern Nevada Health District is upholding its decision to require lifeguards to be present at pools in gyms, citing an incident where someone died at a Las Vegas Athletic Club pool in February.

The death occurred after a woman in her 60s was in a pool for 20 minutes, unresponsive for 10 minutes, and had to be pulled out of the LVAC pool by other members, according to health district records obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The SNHD said LVAC didn’t immediately report the death.

In a Thursday news release, SNHD said it is upholding its March decision to end exceptions granted to certain gyms that allowed them not to have lifeguards at their pools and instead allow remote monitoring.

“An important factor in the Health District’s decision was video showing an incident in February 2024 in which an LVAC customer died in one of its indoor pool facilities,” the release said.

LVAC didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Details on the death

The Feb. 4 death happened at a LVAC pool at 6050 N. Decatur Blvd., according to SNHD records. The victim was described as a woman in her 60s who was “observed using crutches.” The SNHD said the coroner hasn’t issued a report on the death yet and whether it was a drowning.

A video viewed by SNHD shows a woman struggling in the pool for 10 minutes without any help from LVAC staff. The woman was then motionless for another 10 minutes before being pulled from the pool by other members, said an order denying LVAC’s appeal to keep its lifeguard exception. The order said there was no response from LVAC staff until after the member was pulled from the pool, paramedics then came and pronounced the member dead at the scene.

The order said that LVAC didn’t report the death and SNHD first got a report on Feb. 28. The facility was inspected on March 1, and several violations were found, including the cameras monitoring the pool not being properly monitored. The order also said LVAC has said inaccurate things about the circumstances around the death: When a SNHD inspector visited the Decatur location on March 1, the inspector was told by LVAC staff that employees observed the member in distress and made efforts to save the member, but this narrative proved to be false.

The order also said that on Feb. 15 there was a near drowning at LVAC’s North Rainbow location and LVAC customers called 911, not LVAC staff, and other customers pulled the distressed member from the pool and LVAC also didn’t report the incident to SNHD.

History of lifeguard exception

The lifeguard exception was first granted to LVAC in 2020, and several other gyms were then granted the same exception. Since the lifeguard exceptions were granted in 2020, there have been 29 pool closures at 21 locations because of rule violations, the SNHD said.

“The Health District determined these waivers were not adequate to ensure the facilities were protecting the public after two serious incidents occurred, including the death, and repeated failures by facilities to meet the requirements of the variance,” the release said.

In 2018, new pool regulations were adopted by the SNHD, and LVAC President Chad Smith claimed he didn’t know of the new regulations until 2019, SNHD order said.

LVAC has said that it operated its pools for over 40 years without lifeguards and that it shouldn’t need them. Gym pools operate similarly to ones operated by homeowners associations, the company said, because they aren’t open to the public and only members can access them.

The company also said its narrow profit margin makes it too expensive to hire lifeguards.

The SNHD said in its order that LVAC estimated its payroll would increase by $157,680 a month to hire a single lifeguard at all of its facilities, but LVAC makes anywhere from $312,000 to $609,000 in revenue from its pools every month.

“LVAC President Chad Smith stated under oath that the lifeguard requirement would result in financial catastrophe to LVAC; however, he provided slim support to substantiate this claim,” the order said.

Lifeguard plan

Gyms that operated with a lifeguard exception now need to submit a lifeguard plan to keep their pools open, but SNHD didn’t set a firm deadline for doing that. The SNHD said four EoS Fitness locations and a UFC FIT location have submitted plans to hire lifeguards.

EoS Fitness contracts with a third party to hire lifeguards and has about 16 lifeguards for its Las Vegas locations, said Eric McCauley, senior regional vice president of sales Nevada for EoS Fitness.

It’s unclear if other gyms that operated with the lifeguard exception will submit plans to hire lifeguards to the SNHD or close their pools.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at shemmersmeier@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on X.

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