City puts hospital pay parking ban in gear

City council is making moves to ban pay parking at the new Campbell River Hospital once it opens next year.

At its Monday meeting, council directed city staff to draft a city bylaw that, if approved, would ban pay parking at the hospital and other public areas within the city.

The ban would cover all Public Area One zones which encompasses health, social, educational, recreational and other uses.

Coun. Larry Samson, who brought the initiative to the council table, said placing the ban on the Public Area One zone seems appropriate.

“To me it’s a natural fit,” Samson said. “All of these are part of our community and enhance the community but they also should be available to our residents at no financial burden.”

Island Health announced last year that once the new hospitals open in Campbell River and the Comox Valley that pay parking will be in effect.

The health authority has said that revenue will go towards parking lot management, maintenance and security instead of diverting money for patient care towards those services.

But Lois Jarvis, who made a presentation to city council Monday night on behalf of the Campbell River North Citizens for Quality Health Care, questioned the legality of charging for pay parking at the hospital.

“(It’s) a potential violation of the Canada Health Act preventing, ‘reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers’. An online Canadian petition against hospital pay parking has over 12,000 signatures and will be presented to Parliament in December,” Jarvis said.

She added that charging for parking is an unjust and financial hardship on people trying to access the hospital and it “negatively affects how long and how often family and friends visit with patients.”

Jarvis said it’s also an “unfair burden” on hospital staff who will have to pay for parking in order to work at the hospital and she said it has the potential to affect other services offered at the hospital.

“Core and other important services like the Hospital Auxiliary and Hospital Foundation will lose revenue or donations as parking fees will discourage people from accessing and donating to these services,” Jarvis said. “The lab will lose revenue as people will go to a private lab to avoid pay parking.”

Council thanked Jarvis and the North Citizens for Quality Health Care group for keeping council in the loop.

“I want to thank you for the due diligence,” said Mayor Andy Adams. “You have certainly kept us informed.”

And while council asked its staff to come back with a draft bylaw for council’s consideration, the Comox Strathcona Hospital Board has also denounced pay parking and has looked into alternate options, including levying a property tax in exchange for free parking.

Under that model, a tax requisition would be used to generate the amount that Island Health says it would accumulate through pay parking at the new North Island hospitals.

An amount which Jarvis told council is questionable, considering Island Health’s financial statement on its website.

“The financial year end, March 31, 2016 for Island Health, shows they collected $7.5 million from pay parking from 11 health facilities on Vancouver Island,” Jarvis said. “Their figure of $1 million to maintain the two parking lots at our new hospitals is obviously disproportionate in comparison to other Island facilities.”

Joe Murphy, vice president of planning and operations support for Island Health, told the Comox Valley Regional District that Island Health anticipates gross revenues of between $900,000 and $1.2 million from pay parking and net revenues of no greater than $850,000 from the two new hospitals.

The health authority has yet to determine exact parking rates at each location but said it’s committed to providing the lowest of the rates at either St. Joseph’s in the Comox Valley or Nanaimo Regional Hospital. St. Joseph’s parking rates are $1.50 for one hour, $2.25 for two hours, $7 daily and $25 for a weekly permit. Nanaimo Regional’s rates are $2.25 for the first two hours, $1.25 per hour thereafter with a weekly permit costing $26.75.

Island Health has stressed that if pay parking does go ahead, there will be exemptions for hospital volunteers, hospital auxiliary members, spiritual/pastoral care providers, renal patients and family caregivers.

Hardship provisions will be in place to waive or reduce parking fees where they pose a genuine financial challenge to patients and families.

In the meantime, City of Campbell River staff will work on drafting a bylaw for council’s consideration that would block Island Health from implementing pay parking.

Council has directed staff to report back with that draft bylaw no later than the Jan. 9 council meeting, the first of the new year.