Accessibility Problems Still Not Fixed at MUHC SuperHospital: Report

Of more than 50 recommendations to improve access for the disabled at the MUHC superhospital, six have been implemented so far. Aaron Derfel, Montreal Gazette
Updated: October 16, 2018

More than a year after an independent report found numerous problems with accessibility for the disabled and other patients at the MUHC superhospital, the McGill University Health Centre has still not fixed most of the deficiencies, the Montreal Gazette has learned.

The MUHC commissioned the report by two experts at the Université de Montréal after the patients committee raised repeated concerns about the lack of clear signage, the scarcity of wheelchairs in the lobby, the confusing layout and poor access to public bathrooms for the mobility-challenged. The report uncovered visual and physical obstacles in 19 categories, a dozen of which were deemed urgent.

Yet 15 months after the report was submitted to the MUHC, the vast majority of its recommendations have not been followed, including several proposed adjustments that would have involved modest costs.

To me, its a valid document that I hope the new administration will act on in a more complete and systematic way, Emanuel Kolyvas, co-chair of the patients accessibility committee, said of the report.

I hope the administration will include the patients committee to resolve these issues.

Among the problems identified in the report:

  • The front lobby is too large and destabilizing for persons who are under stress.
  • By comparison, theres not enough space in the waiting area in the admissions department where patients receive their hospital cards, and the signage is not clear.
  • There are no places reserved for patients in wheelchairs in the blood-test centre. This space seems disorganized with little thought given to its intended use, the report observes.
  • In the Cedars Cancer Centre, too many people wait in the corridor during certain times of the day and the MUHC must think of making the wait easier for people with reduced mobility.

The authors of the report, Tiiu Poldma of the École de design at the U de M and PhD candidate Zakia Hammouni, judged the accessibility problems in the cancer centre to be an urgent priority and estimated that the proposed adjustments would incur modest costs.

However, to date none of their proposals have been put in place in the cancer centre. A reporter was able to confirm that overall, very few of the reports recommendations have been implemented following a nearly two-hour tour of the Glen site facilities on Friday, with Kolyvas leading the way. The Gazette obtained the accessibility report after an official request made under Quebecs Access to Information Law.

The report highlights the difficulties faced by patients in wheelchairs who want to use the public bathrooms.

A diagram shows some of the obstacles for the mobility-challenged in the public bathrooms of the MUHC. Source: MUHC accessibility report

Dr. Pierre Gfeller, who was appointed executive director of the MUHC in May, has promised to upgrade at least two public bathrooms a year at the Glen site in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. The superhospital has a total of 72 public bathrooms, and to date, seven are fully accessible to mobility-challenged individuals.

Mona Arsenault, a member of the patients committee who uses a wheelchair, had a photo taken of herself in one of the bathrooms. The photo shows that although she is able to enter the bathroom by herself, she has no privacy without the assistance of someone to close the doors of the bathroom and toilet stall.

The MUHC declined to comment on the accessibility report. Gilda Salomone, a spokesperson for the MUHC, emailed the Gazette a status report showing the progress of some of the accessibility proposals.

The status report shows that of the more than 50 recommendations to improve accessibility, six have been implemented to date among them, an employee being added to the information counter in the main lobby. In many cases, the MUHC has determined that a recommendation is not feasible or is a non-prioritized project, while in others the proposed adjustment is not considered because of budget priorities.

MUHC status report shows the progress of some accessibility recommendations. Source: MUHC MUHC

Kolyvas did note that the MUHC has made several sought-after modifications, including installing automatic doors in some bathrooms, improving access to the Glen site from the Vendôme métro station and increasing the delay in the closing of elevator doors by two seconds to accommodate patients with reduced mobility.

The $1.3-billion superhospital opened in April 2015 after years of planning. It was built as a public-private partnership. The private consortium headed by engineering firm SNC-Lavalin was put in charge of financing, designing, building and maintaining the facilities.

Gfeller has said the MUHC will have to absorb the expense of the bathroom modifications, estimated to cost at least $8,900 per unit. One of the reasons that the accessibility upgrades are taking so long or are so expensive is that they involve complex negotiations with the consortium, said Kolyvas, a retired physician.

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