Patients to pay for parking

Just how much it will cost, who will be in charge of collecting it, and what that money will be spent on are yet to be determined

Island Health will charge for parking at the new Campbell River Hospital facility despite pleas from the public, various elected officials and the region’s own hospital board for it to be free.

Just how much it will cost, who will be in charge of collecting it, and what that money will be spent on are yet to be determined.

“Fees will be determined by Island Health Parking Services based on St. Joseph’s General Hospital and Nanaimo Regional General Hospital parking rates,” according to the recent announcement by Island Health.

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 recognizes that pay parking in hospitals is not popular,” says Dan Maclennan of Island Health Communications, “however pay parking is standard practice in the vast majority of care facilities in urban areas.”

Unpopular might be an understatement. Letters have been flowing in to Island Health and the Ministry of Health condemning the concept of pay parking for months.

Mayor Michael Barry of Alert Bay’s letter reads, for example, “There are already prohibitive costs to North Islanders travelling for medical care,” and goes on to reference ferry cost and fuel for travel, meals and often accommodation requirements for many who travel to Campbell River for care.

“Please do not exacerbate the financial burden of North Island citizens who already face barriers to medical care.”

Similarly, letters from our region’s MLA have had seemingly no effect.

“There is already stress when an individual or a family member is in hospital; knowing there will be a cost to access that health care will add further stress,” wrote Claire Trevena, MLA for the North Island in support of parking being free at the new facility.

“Further, people who are on low or even moderate income simply will find the cost of paying for parking day after day, to visit and support friends or family, untenable.”

The Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District’s own board of directors denounced the notion of pay parking at the Campbell River facility as recently as their Sept. 17 meeting, where they carried a motion to write a letter of support to Island Health, “to request that all on-site parking at our new hospitals sites be provided ‘free of charge’ to patients and family members, thereby allowing patients and visitors throughout our very large geographic service area to have easy and open access to our hospitals and would enhance positive health outcomes for the people of our service area.”

Lois and Ed Jarvis, co-founders of Citizens for Quality Healthcare say the decision by Island Health is just unacceptable.

“The region being served by this hospital is enormous,” Lois says, “and people are just trying to make ends meet these days. To expect all these people from all these little islands and all the First Nations villages and everything, to come all the way down here for their healthcare needs, and then expect them to pay for parking after all that, I think, is unreasonable.

“This isn’t Vancouver General we’re talking about, or Children’s Hospital, or the Royal Jubilee in Victoria,” Lois says. “Parking is really at a premium around those hospitals, so I can see why they’d need pay parking at those. But here? It’s just ridiculous.”

Island Heath says paid parking is meant to generate revenue to maintain and repair the parking facilities.

“Parking revenues pay for services such as snow removal and de-icing, painting, repaving, pothole repairs, parkade repairs, equipment, lighting costs, security and future parking supply,” Maclennan says. “Parking fees also offset environmental costs such as catch basin and oil interceptor cleaning,” he says, adding that without pay parking, these costs would have to come from Island Health’s global budget, which includes the health care services and programs.

“When you consider the amount of money that this hospital gets from the community and from taxes, it just shouldn’t be necessary,” Lois says.

“Look at the amount of money we pay in hospital taxes,” Lois says. “Then, between the Auxiliary and the (Campbell River Hospital) Foundation, they raise a minimum of $650,000 a year that they give to this hospital,” not to mention the smaller-scale donations from individuals and service clubs.

And she says that Campbell River city council needs to “show some leadership on this.”

She points to the municipality of Delta as an example of a municipality taking the bull by the horns and saying “no” to pay parking at hospitals.

In 2004, when there was a new hospital being built in Delta, the mayor and council went so far as to draft a bylaw stating that parking at hospitals within their municipal borders must be provided free of charge. That bylaw was read three times, went through public hearing, was approved by the ministry of Transportation, but was never enacted, because Fraser Health (who was building the hospital) relented to the public’s wishes and made parking free at the facility.

The bylaw was adopted, however, in 2010, when the prospect of implementing paid parking again reared its head, and is now in place and being enforced.

More than anything else, the Jarvis’ are worried about people’s healthcare suffering because of the additional financial burden.

“What about the pensioners?” Lois asks, rhetorically. “One might be in the hospital for months, and they need their spouse or friend or someone to visit. If people can’t afford to go there and visit them, that’s really going to be harmful for their health.

“And children need their parents there, you know?”

Ed has seen this first hand.

When his mother went into care, his father visited her every day and sat by her bedside for eight hours a day.

It was important.

It improved her quality of life while she was there.

“There’s no way he would have been able to do that if it was pay parking,” Ed says.

“It just couldn’t have happened. And that would have been a shame.”

So what’s next in the battle for free parking at healthcare facilities, now that Island Health has made their announcement that they will be charging for parking at the new facility?

“Well, it’s not open yet,” Lois smiles. “We’ve still got a couple of years to fight.”