Upper East Side residents can expect another disastrous start to the summer season at John Jay Park’s outdoor public pools as a lifeguard shortage persists into a second year, even after pay hikes and increased recruitment efforts. Less than a week before the unofficial start of summer, NYC Parks says it only has one-third of the staffing it needs.
“Lifeguards are so critical to our pool and beach operations,” NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue told City Council members during a hearing on Monday, “We are in the throes of a national lifeguard shortage. That continues.”
Commissioner Donoghue says it has hired fewer than 500 of the 1,400 certified lifeguards needed to fully staff New York City’s 14 miles of beaches and 53 public pools.
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“We are absolutely hoping to have at least the same number we had last year, which was approximately 800,” Donoghue said, adding that the agency needs at least that number of lifeguards just to partially open all the city’s pools and beaches.
“If we had more lifeguards, we’d be able to offer early morning [and] later evening shifts,” Donoghue explained, “With a [shortage] of lifeguards, we’re only able to offer one shift.
For comparison, NYC Parks had 658 lifeguards by the end of last June. At the time, the shortage resulted in NYC Parks crews booting a baker’s dozen of swimmers from the nearly empty Olympic-sized pool at John Jay Park, located on East 77th Street, between York Avenue and the FDR Drive, to make way for another small group.
“The [normal] routine is you come early. You get in into the pool. You stay into the pool,” 75-year-old Joe Lovullo explained to Upper East Site on opening day at John Jay Park in 2022, “There was never ‘you’re in there for an hour-and-a-half, and they tell you you got to leave’ because these other people just want to get in.”
Swimmers were furious after being ordered out of the water to make way for a different group of swimmers under a so-called ‘sessions’ policy -– despite the pool containing far fewer than the 75-person limit for a single lifeguard.
Upper East Site inquired whether NYC Parks would once again implement the unpopular ‘sessions’ policy but did not hear back by time of publication.
Earlier this year, the city made the more than three-dollar per hour raise given to lifeguards last summer permanent to drive up recruitment; however, even with the bump in wages to nearly $20 an hour, just 200 of this year’s lifeguards are new recruits.
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“There is no doubt that the challenges continue,” explained Commissioner Donoghue, promising that “beaches will open later this month, and then our outdoor pools will open at the end of June … when kids get out of school.”
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