By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE — The issue of accessibility has been a growing concern in the region, and one incident about a week and a half ago has solidified the importance of coming up with a solution. A senior in his 80’s visited the courthouse and, as he was walking off the landing at the end of the handrail, fell and broke his hip.
The gentleman lay on the ground for approximately five minutes before a passerby spotted him and called for assistance. The senior left the courthouse shortly afterwards in an ambulance. Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose believes this was something that could have been avoided.
“I got a report from management this week that a senior fell and broke their hip going in or out of the courthouse, and it’s so disheartening to hear that because we have been lobbying and speaking about this provincial courthouse. In it you’ve got your government service center; your motor registration. It’s a place where the public has to go and, in this region, like in many regions, we have an aging population,” said Rose. “So, from a government perspective, to me, it should have been a priority to have a new courthouse built or find a suitable location in town.”
Rose said there are options that would be better suited for everyone, even those with mobility issues.
“We do have some vacant buildings in town that could be utilized – for example, Service Canada. It is one floor, with wheelchair accessibility.”
The mayor says there have been previous incidents over the years at the courthouse and accessibility problems and hazards for those with mobility issues remain.
“Anytime seniors have to start climbing up and down stairs, cement stairs, if they fall that cement has no forgiveness,” said the mayor. “You don’t have to be a senior to fall and break something, but seniors are more prone to break bones, so this was a hard story to hear that this has happened.”
Continued Rose, “I sure hope the individual is doing okay and they recover. When you are a senior and you break your hip, it’s tough. It’s really tough.”
Rose said that the building is a provincial responsibility, and it is time for it to be resolved.
“It’s interesting and a bit ironic that businesses and establishments have to follow OH&S (Occupational Health and Safety) guidelines to ensure accessibility is appropriate, but some of these government buildings aren’t,” said Rose. “This is a military World War II building that was utilized for a purpose and today it isn’t meeting the demands of the people, and the demands of the people utilizing that are a lot of seniors. It should be on one-level, and it should be wheelchair accessible.”
Rose said this issue has been a concern of council for quite some time, predating his tenure as mayor.
“Since I’ve been on council, this has always been a topic whenever we’ve spoken to provincial leadership individuals,” said Rose. “It was even when Tom Marshall was the premier. I think he had promised a new courthouse for Stephenville, so we are dating back some time. This file has been ongoing, and once I heard about this incident I thought, enough is enough. I have got to take this on and try to work with government to find a solution to this problem.”
Rose said it wasn’t that long ago that accessibility was also brought to the attention of Minister John Abbott while he was in Stephenville.
“We met with Minister Abbott a few months ago and spoke to him about it, and he was very supportive that a solution had to be found. So we’re going to follow up now as a council again with Minister Abbott and the provincial government, and hope that our MHA Tony Wakeham can jump in and do some work to help come up with a solution for our problem,” said Rose. “We have to come up with a solution. We’ve got a big problem with the courthouse here in Stephenville and the provincial government has got to fix it.”
Rose understands that things take time, but at a certain point this can no longer be swept under the rug.
“If you do a physical look at the site, it is clear that it is difficult for people with mobility issues to get in there,” said Rose. “Sometimes government is a little slow to move, and that’s part of the process, but it’s to the point now that it’s not good enough anymore,” said Rose. “This is the 21st century. This is Newfoundland and Labrador. This is Canada. We’ve got to do better.”
Brian Scott with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said safety is always a top priority at provincial government buildings.
“Alterations and modifications are often made to improve accessibility and safety,” said Scott. “For example, in recent years, the department has improved safety at public buildings by constructing accessible entrances, increasing the number of accessible parking spaces at many buildings, and making repairs to potential trip and fall hazards.”
Scott noted that specific improvements have been made to the entrance to the courthouse in Stephenville.
“With the recent increase in visitors to the building in Stephenville, the department extended the rail as an additional measure to increase safety for visitors at the building.”