TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Panes of tempered glass form a security barrier from the second floor overlooking the main atrium at the Brandon Regional Health Centre on Thursday afternoon. The RHA will be installing the tempered glass in any open areas overlooking the atrium.
Ten months after a second person jumped to their death in the hospital’s atrium, the Brandon Regional Health Authority is one step closer to installing permanent safety barriers.
A "mock-up" barrier was installed this week to a section of the second-floor balcony overlooking the atrium.
BRHA CEO Brian Schoonbaert said the next step is meeting with a panel of experts, including engineers, architects and Manitoba Health officials, to decide if any changes need to be made to the design.
"What’s there now isn’t necessarily at all going to be the final look and feel, but it will be something similar to that," Schoonbaert said. "However … if we’re not happy, we’ll change it. We have to feel comfortable that this is going to be a good permanent fix."
The mock-up design includes steel braces that have been attached to the existing hand-railing, and hold a heavy, tempered glass. Plans for the barriers have been in the works for quite some time, and Schoonbaert said it has taken longer to create a suitable design that used the existing structure as much as possible.
"This would have been done quite differently if we had done it right from the beginning, but we haven’t, so it takes a little bit more work," Schoonbaert said.
On July 8, 2011, a 31-year-old man fell from the fourth floor into the hospital atrium and landed on a patient.
The patient suffered broken bones, while the man who jumped later died of traumatic injuries due to the fall. The man had been a psychiatric patient at some point, but was not a hospital patient at the time.
About six months before that incident, on Dec. 31, 2010, a 51-year-old woman fell from the fourth floor to her death. She was a patient at the Centre for Adult Psychiatry nearby, and was on leave from the centre at the time.
Following the first death, then-CEO Carmel Olson said the railings on the hospital atrium stairway were built higher than what was required by existing building codes.
The woman’s death was deemed an isolated incident so it was believed there was no need for structural changes to the hospital.
However, temporary Plexiglass barriers were installed on the third-, fourth- and fifth-floor balconies, in the week following the July 2011 incident. The atrium staircase from the second floor up has been closed for security purposes ever since.
"We don’t want that to happen again," Schoonbaert said. "We want to, of course, have a safe environment and we’re going to make sure that whatever solution we have ... to make sure that that potential could … never be there again."
The staircase will be included in the permanent barrier plan, and will be opened up again once installed.
"It’s been a nuisance because we haven’t been able to use the stairway, so we really need to move along," Schoonbaert said. "But trying to design something without ripping out everything we have there is more complicated than you think."
Schoonbaert hopes to have the permanent barriers installed this summer.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 4, 2012