Council asks city staff to look into options to prohibit pay parking at the new hospital

Coun. Larry Samson wants the city to investigate how it can stop Island Health from imposing paid parking at the new Campbell River Hospital once it opens.

The health authority’s announcement that it intends to charge for parking has been met with strong opposition from residents, the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board, the Strathcona Regional District and members of the Campbell River Citizens for Quality Healthcare.

Letters from the regional district and, most recently, the mayor of Port Hardy, to both the province and Island Health condemning the move have not persuaded Island Health to change its mind.

At Monday’s council meeting, Samson served notice to city council that he will be putting forward a motion at the April 25 council meeting “that staff report back on options to prohibit pay parking at the new hospital.”

Samson wants those options to include adopting a bylaw similar to that of the municipality of Delta, which passed a bylaw amendment in 2004 that dictates that “parking spaces in connection with a hospital must be provided free of charge.”

Samson’s notice of motion comes just days after a letter was sent from provincial Health Minister Terry Lake to the Strathcona Regional District confirming the province’s position that it supports paid parking at the new hospital.

“Pay parking revenues allow the health authority to pay for parking lot management, maintenance and security, rather than using other hospital funds that are better spent on direct patient care,” Lake wrote. “Because Campbell River Hospital has been a non-paying site to date, the costs associated with the parking facilities have been born out of general health authority funding, which can now be better directed toward patient care.”

Lake said he recognized the concerns from Port Hardy Mayor Hank Bood and Strathcona Regional District directors that the hospital will serve patients coming from several hundred kilometres away who have already incurred great costs to reach the hospital such as gas and ferry fares but said mitigation will be in place.

“I would like to assure you that all health authorities, including Island Health, have provisions in place to waive fees where they will post a genuine financial hardship to families,” Lake wrote. “Staff at Island Health facilities will work with those patients and families to recommend a Financial Hardship permit or alternative transportation options, if appropriate.”

Island Health has said a unit social worker will work with the patient and family if they are in financial distress and that pay parking will be waived for hospital volunteers, hospital auxiliary members, pastoral care providers and renal patients.

Pay parking will, however, apply to all regular hospital staff, physicians, patients, visitors, students, contractors and service providers.

Lake said parking fees are regularly waived in emergency situations, such as when a patient who has driven to the emergency department is told they need to be admitted.

Campbell River’s new hospital has been under construction since last year and is expected to open in late 2017. It will include a new, underground parkade that will increase parking to 450 spots.