Port Hardy mayor rejects pay parking at hospital

THEY SAID IT: “The people that can least afford this ... are being asked to just suck it up.”
– Jim Abram SRD director, Area C

The mayor of Port Hardy is the latest to add his name to the list of people lobbying the province to scrap proposed parking fees at the new hospital.

Mayor Hank Bood wrote a letter to the province’s Health Minister Terry Lake in response to Lake’s reply to a letter from MLA Claire Trevena.

In Lake’s letter he says that the province supports Island Health’s plan to charge for parking at both the new Campbell River and Comox Valley hospitals.

That didn’t sit well with Bood who told Lake that charging for parking will add to the financial toll his residents already face in having to travel nearly three hours for higher level medical care.

“In an area where most residents will be travelling by car with no other options to access the facility (it) will create a huge burden,” Bood wrote, adding that Port Hardy council does understand there are costs associated with a facility such as the hospital and in providing adequate parking for users.

But, he said, there are other hospitals in B.C. that have free parking and he said Campbell River’s hospital should remain one of the exceptions.

“People driving up to three hours just to access required medical services, we know that it is impossible to predict how long you may be waiting for treatment at the hospital, paying additional fees in parking tickets for lapsed time is not acceptable,” Bood wrote. “Not to mention, the cost of fuel or the cost of accommodations (both of which cannot be recovered from Medical Services Plan) while attending various services at the only location with services available to North Island residents.”

In conclusion, Bood wrote that on behalf of council, he urges Lake “to re-evaluate the parkings fees at the Campbell Rive Hospital and make the access to required services available with as little hardship to North Island residents as possible.”

Bood sent a copy of his letter to Trevena, as well as other North Island municipal councils, municipal councils within the Strathcona Regional District, as well as the Strathcona Regional District board which voted last week to send Mayor Bood a letter of thanks.

The regional district board has itself been protesting the proposed parking fees since they were announced by Island Health in the fall.

Quadra Director Jim Abram said last month that he found Lake’s letter, confirming the parking fees, “totally unacceptable” and said he was particularly concerned about piling on fees for people who already have to travel several hundred kilometres, or take multiple ferries, to access the hospital.

“The people that can least afford this, and it’s going to cause the greatest inconvenience to, are being asked to just suck it up and do it,” Abram said.

Lake, in his letter, admitted that “from time to time, difficult decisions must be made.”

He defended pay parking, saying that it allows hospitals to focus their financial resources on patient care, rather than parking lot maintenance, and that any surpluses from parking revenues are used to improve health care resources.

Tom Sparrow, Island Health’s chief project officer, told Campbell River city council last October that funding generated through pay parking goes towards maintenance and security of Island Health’s facilities as well as supporting the health authority’s operating budgets.

The move, though, has been met with opposition from Trevena, the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital board, the Strathcona Regional District board, and members of the Campbell River Citizens for Quality Healthcare.

The regional district will be taking the matter to the next Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC) convention in a bid to get other municipalities and regional districts to lobby the province.

According to Island Health, pay parking will be in effect for all hospital staff, physicians, patients, visitors, students, contractors and service providers. Those exempt from pay parking are: hospital volunteers, hospital auxiliary members, spiritual/pastoral care providers, renal patients or 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. A unit social worker will work with the patient and family if they are in financial distress.