Hospital board supports banning pay parking

Campbell River city council has the backing of the region’s hospital board to pursue a ban on pay parking at the new hospital

Campbell River city council has the backing of the region’s hospital board to pursue a ban on pay parking at the new hospital.

At its most recent meeting, the Comox Strathcona Hospital Board – which is made up of elected officials from both the Comox Valley Regional District and the Strathcona Regional District – voted to support Campbell River and Comox Valley city councils in passing a bylaw to prohibit any type of parking fees at the new Campbell River and Comox Valley hospitals.

In April, Campbell River city council passed a motion to have city staff investigate how the city can stop Island Health from charging fees at the new Campbell River Hospital, which is expected to open next year.

The issue was raised by Coun. Larry Samson who suggested city staff look to the municipality of Delta which, in 2004, adopted a bylaw amendment that dictates that “parking spaces in connection with a hospital must be provided free of charge.”

Island Health announced last year that once the new hospitals in both Campbell River and the Comox Valley open, that there will be a fee to park at the facilities.

Provincial Health Minister Terry Lake has said that the province supports Island Health’s decision to charge for parking, saying that it allows the health authority to “pay for parking lot management, maintenance and security, rather than using hospital funds that are better spent on direct patient care.”

But Richard Hagensen, a member of Citizens for Quality Health Care North, questioned the legality of charging for parking. He said that under the Canada Health Act there is a section that states that the Act exists “to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents in Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.”

“In Canada this had become the subject of a legal challenge and currently in Winnipeg, a cancer patient has launched a petition to the House of Commons to end parking fees based on the premise they violate the Canada Health Act,” Hagensen said during a presentation to the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board at its last meeting.

Hagensen said that charging for parking is “an unjust and financial hardship for most people accessing a needed hospital service, especially those from communities outside of Campbell River and the Comox Valley.”

The hospital board, for its part, has been looking at alternate options, including levying a property tax in exchange for free parking.

Under that scheme, a tax requisition would be used to generate roughly $1 million – the amount Island Health says it would accumulate through pay parking at the new North Island hospitals.

Debra Oakman, CAO for the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) which coordinates hospital board meetings, said that $627,104 and $372,896 would need to be collected from Comox Valley and Strathcona regional district residents, respectively, each year through taxation while $250,823 would need to come from Campbell River residents.

Joe Murphy, vice president of planning and operations support for Island Health, told the CVRD 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.

Revenue generated by pay parking is intended to go towards overall facility maintenance, which the health authority said will cost approximately $8.9 million annually.

Murphy said Island Health has “yet to determine the exact parking rates at each location” but is committed “to providing the lowest of the rates at either St. Joseph’s or Nanaimo hospital.”

Parking rates at St. Joseph’s in the Comox Valley 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.

Both Island Health and Lake have 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.

But Hagensen alleges that will only drive costs, having to have a social worker in place to “evaluate people as hardship cases, not to mention the indignity of putting people through that demeaning process.”

Meanwhile, construction continues on the new, 95-bed Campbell River Hospital which is expected to open in the fall of 2017.