jenna morton she said times transcript

Remove Parking Fees at Hospitals

Tucked in among the baby memorabilia in our sons’ memory boxes is an application for a parking pass at The Moncton Hospital.

It wasn’t an onerous process to apply, nor was the cost extraordinary. It looks like we paid roughly $60 for the passes while we spent more than a month visiting the neonatal intensive care unit, often entering the parking lot more than once a day. But it was one more thing on our to do list that wasn’t sitting next to our babies’ isolettes.

Whatever your reason for being at the hospital, whether it’s a dialysis appointment, chemotherapy treatments, or sitting beside a loved one, a couple things are for sure. You’re likely feeling stressed and you’re likely paying for parking.

The debate over parking and health care access is once again in the spotlight, after the Telegrah-Journal reported Horizon Health Network took in $6.8 million in parking fees last year, up roughly 19% from the previous year.

The parking debate is a national one that rises to the surface every few years. In 2011, an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal called for free parking at all hospitals. Rajendra Kale, who wrote that piece, commented recently on a reduction in hospital parking fees in Ontario. Kale states that hospital administrators should focus on the money patients are saving and “acknowledge that [free parking] will increase access to health care. This is what improving health care is about: removing barriers, and improving the lot of patients.” He also questions just how much removing parking fees would impact a hospital’s bottom line.

Horizon Health boasts an annual budget of more than $1 billion. Would the loss of less than $7 million cripple the system? No. But paying $8 a day to park might keep New Brunswickers from going to the hospital. Surely we can find a way to recoup the fees that would be lost if parking fees were waived.

It seems we see a fundraiser for hospital costs every day, with The Friends of the Moncton Hospital raising more than $1 million a year through its annual giving program. Then there are the community fundraisers and the endowments fund that reached a market value of more than $7 million last year. If the heath network, the province, and the federal government aren’t able to cut the parking fees, maybe we the people can, via the foundation.

There have been petitions and protests across the country. Prominent physicians have spoken publicly for the need to remove paid parking as a deterrent to care. Proponents point to Scotland and Wales, where parking fees were removed years ago. And while it may not be against the letter of the law in terms of the Canada Health Act, it seems to be against what most Canadians consider our values when it comes to health care.

Many New Brunswick families are already facing tough daily financial choices. The recent census shows our province is home to the lowest incomes in the country. We have the most children living in poverty. Combine that with our aging population known to have high rates for several diseases and chronic illnesses, and you see that there is a problem with paid hospital parking. One that is only going to need more attention.

Obviously there is a cost to providing parking at our hospitals. And there certainly needs to be some method of tracking how parking is being used by patients so that free access isn’t abused. But can’t we shift the process so that patients and the family and friends who are helping them can have at least this one stress alleviated? A better solution is needed.

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more She Said columns.

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