The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal
Hospital parking is another issue for access. Photo by Casey Richardson.

Why more needs to be done in lowering hospital parking costs. 

Suffering the painful loss of my grandfather from a gruelling nine-month battle with stage four lung cancer earlier this year meant numerous visits to the hospital for me and my family.

However, during those visits, it was hard to understand why my family had to waste their time running in and out of the hospice paying for parking stubs when we should have been with my grandfather as much as possible during his final days with us.

Unfortunately, parking spending issues have become the case for Canadians all over the country, continuing to be a constant burden for those visiting their loved ones during trying times. And that’s compounded when there’s a fear on missing out on those moments with ailing family members while filling up the meter, making a conversation on hospital parking even more important in the hopes of eliminating these fees.

These fees vary across the country. For example, at Montreal’s McGill University Health Centre, people can pay up to $24 a day in its non-express parking lot – even after the provincial government forced it to lower its high fees. Meanwhile, at Toronto General Hospital, the rate is $25 a day. In Calgary, the fee is lower. Foothills Medical Centre, Rockyview General Hospital and Alberta Children’s Hospital, parkers can pay up to $14.25 per day.Sheldon M. Chumir Centre costs $2.25 per half hour or $26.00 for the daily maximum. Photo by Casey RichardsonThe Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre costs $2.25 per half hour or $26.00 for the daily maximum. Photo by Casey Richardson.

Vicki McKenna, a registered nurse and president of the Ontario Nurses Association has seen first-hand how much paying for parking can add up.

“A friend of mine who is visiting the hospital for treatments on a regular basis said that they are averaging $1400-$1500 a month for parking.”

Not only does hospital parking add up quickly, but it is a real source of frustration and added stress for patients and their families.

“For any family, I would think that it is a struggle because it is not something that most people budget into their family budget. Loss of control over parking has families choosing for paying for groceries, paying for rent or paying for parking, it’s expensive, it’s very expensive,” said Mckenna.

Susan Kuczynski, parent liaison for the Ontario Parents Advocating for Children with Cancer, can attest to the added stress parking creates in the parents of sick kids she deals with every day.

“It’s an unforeseen added cost. Even with the best planning suddenly your kid is in a dire medical emergency and everything goes out the window, and so do your finances. So anytime you have to put your hand in your pocket it’s huge.”

“There is always the possibility that a life will slip away while a family member is out paying for parking. That precious memory will be lost forever.” - Richard Stewart

The money adds up very quickly, especially for those seeking long-term care.

“In the case of cancer treatment kids are in, as are adults, for days at a time. Even if you are just going in for a few minutes of radiation it still means parking your car, getting into the clinic, getting the radiation and getting out. People pay thousands of dollars a year” said Kuczynski.

Richard Stewart, the mayor of Coquitlam, British Columbia is among those people.

“During times when our daughter was hospitalized, we were paying hundreds of dollars in parking fees to be with our daughter, or to meet with doctors and psychiatrists.”

Paying for parking is not only a financial burden, but also a source of stress for families waiting to see sick family members or speak to medical representatives.

“Many times we had paid for two hours of parking, only to find that our daughter was asleep. And, other times, we were waiting for the doctor and unwilling to leave to go buy more parking for fear that the doctor would come by while we were gone.”

Stewart has not only experienced his own personal anguish when paying for parking, but has seen first-hand the effects the parking has on others within his community.

“I was at Eagle Ridge Emergency with our daughter one evening, and an SUV screeched to a halt just outside the emergency entrance. Staff assisted the wife in removing her husband from the front seat, suffering what was obviously a life-threatening medical crisis. They wheeled him into the emergency and she climbed back into her car and went to park,” said Stewart.

A moment that this woman should have spent by her husband’s side was instead wasted on filling up the meter.

Stewart surprised the women by paying for her parking, later receiving a letter from her expressing her gratitude.Downtown parking around the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre is also available, but costly and only two hour spots are available. Photo by Casey RichardsonDowntown street parking around the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre is also available, but costly and only two-hour spots are available. Photo by Casey Richardson.

“Her stress wasn’t about the money; it was just that paid parking was one thing she shouldn’t have had to worry about at that time.”

Stewart says that although the high cost of parking is certainly a burden on families, missing out on those moments with loved ones is even more upsetting.

“There is always the possibility that a life will slip away while a family member is out paying for parking. That precious memory will be lost forever.”

That’s why the need for the reduction or even elimination of hospital parking fees is so important

“There are some hospitals in the country where you don’t pay anything for parking,” says Kuczynski, “which is really what it should be.”

For example, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Prince Edward Island adopted free hospital parking two years ago.

The idea of free parking is something I wish my family could have taken advantage of when visiting my grandfather in the hospital. Standing around filling the meter was the first thing we had to do when visiting him, and the idea of not paying for parking would reduce financial stress for many families across the country.

The hope for free parking across all Canadian hospitals is a feat that could take a long time, but getting the conversation started is key in making the change.

There may, however, be a short-term solution in levelling out fees to reduce the financial impact.

“I believe hospital parking should ideally be free. However, if free parking would attract walk-offs and a shortage of hospital parking, then parking changes should reflect the typical parking prices in the neighbourhood,” says Stewart, “In the end, the most expensive parking in a city shouldn’t be at the hospital.”

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