Parking fees deemed a barrier to health care

Canadian medical journal says parking fees are a barrier to health care.

Plugging the parking meter with a handful of coins is a common routine for people visiting the hospital, but are parking fees impeding people’s ability to access care?

The Canadian Medical Association Journal says parking fees are a barrier to health care and place avoidable stress on patients.

In a recent editorial, the journal said patients are more concerned about feeding the meter to avoid a ticket and some are abruptly ending consultations to avoid paying for more time, which is creating parking-centred health care instead of patient-centred care.

Rajendra Kale, interim editor-in-chief of CMAJ, writes in the editorial that the practice is a user fee in disguise and according to the Canadian health-care policy, residents should have access to services without financial or other barriers.

Calvin Chowen, who visited Nanaimo Regional General Hospital Saturday afternoon, said he had to stop getting treatment and run out of the hospital to plug the meter because his appointment went longer than expected.

“Instead of being in the ER, I’m out here paying for a ticket,” Chowen said as he put more money in the parking ticket machine. “It should be free. We are at a hospital – it’s not like we are on vacation.”

Chowen said if fees aren’t eliminated, the health authority should make it easier for people to pay.

He suggests people are given a parking number with their stall and have meters in various locations inside the hospital, as well as in the parking lot. Chowen said he’s seen a similar system in other cities and it’s more convenient.

Erik Jory, who also paid for parking while visiting relatives at NRGH, said $2.25 for two hours isn’t unreasonable and he expects to parking fees when he drives.

Pay parking has been in effect at NRGH for about 20 years. Parking fees are charged at NRGH and Victoria-area hospitals and care facilities. All other VIHA facilities have free parking.

The majority of pay-parking stalls are for staff use, said Shannon Marshall, a VIHA spokeswoman.

The health authority has received complaints about parking, but most were about the lack of availability, she said, adding there are hardship provisions to waive or reduce parking fees if they pose a challenge for families.

Free parking permits are available to renal dialysis patients and a family caregiver of a patient in residential long-term bed. Financial hardship permits might also be available on a case-by-case basis by consulting with a unit social worker.

Parking fees represent a small portion of VIHA’s total budget, which was $1.9 billion in 2010-11.

Parking fees collected Island-wide in 2010-11 were more than $6.052 million. Money collected at NRGH totalled $931,000. Robbins Parking, which enforces all VIHA pay parking, was paid $694,000.

About 57 per cent of revenue collected pays for parking lot maintenance, including repairs, painting, snow ploughing, upkeep of gates, signs and lighting and covering capital costs of the design and construction of new parking lots. The remainder is used to fund patient and general support services.

Parking at NRGH costs 25 cents per 15 minutes at the street meters; $2.25 for the first two hours and an additional $1.25 for each hour beyond that at the lot parking meters; and $26.75 for weekly permits.

Marshall said VIHA also encourages the use of alternative transportation options, including B.C. Transit programs such as Handy Dart.

reporter3@nanaimobulletin.com